Yukon Search and Rescue (YSAR) is a volunteer-run organisation that provides ground and water search and rescue support for the territory.
Prior to 2014 each community had their own search and rescue organization, but since then the amalgamation with one head administrative office in Whitehorse has allowed a better centralised support system for the territory.
Currently Yukon Search and Rescue has over a hundred members and active field operations in Carmacks, Dawson City, Faro, Haines Junction and Whitehorse and is looking to re-expand back to Watson Lake.
Yukon Search and Rescue assists the RCMP on searches and evidence-based searches. The call is made and the YSAR and their volunteers respond.
Who is a typical Yukon Search and Rescue volunteer? “All walks of life. Every background, every profession,” Jason Hudson, president of Yukon Search and Rescue.
“If anybody is interested, searchers are usually active and like the outdoors, fit and have gear. But it doesn’t prevent anybody from joining. We need searchers, logistics, communications, events, fundraising, administration. There is always something for someone to do,” adds John Brooks, director of planning.
If you have an interest in the outdoors, Yukon Search and Rescue provides ongoing training such as GPS, compass and maps. If you’re not interested or not capable of being outdoors, then there are opportunities to train in other vital roles required in searches, such as logistics, outreach and preventions, communications and incident command systems.
Not only does Yukon Search and Rescue provide training for searches, but the organization is also actively involved in the community with youth outreach and prevention programmes like Adventure Smart and its most well-known programme Hug-a-Tree.
Hug-a-Tree is a programme aimed at young children from kindergarten to Grade 4 that provides the tools and the rules that they should follow if they got lost in the woods, as to not harm themselves or put themselves in further danger until they are found.
As Mike Fancie, public relations and prevention coordinator states, “It’s important for prevention. The second someone knows what to bring with them it reduces an incident from a survival issue to minor issue.”
For those who like to educate and be involved within the community, they can participate with Yukon Search and Rescue on their prevention programmes. This entails doing presentations at summer camps, schools and community events about getting lost, what you should take when you go into the backcountry and how to be safe when you do go outdoors.
“It’s satisfying to work face-to-face with the community,” says Fancie. “Going into a classroom of young Yukoners and giving valuable information – it’s satisfying.”
Yukon Search and Rescue usually provides an annual (this year bi-annual) basic training to first-time volunteers. To be a volunteer, the organization requires a minimum 50 per cent monthly meeting commitment and that volunteers have First Aid training.
There are periodic information sessions and you can go to www.YukonSAR.org to find out more.
The training course that starts on Sept. 29 is the second intake this year for new volunteers with Yukon Search and Rescue. The 40-hour course is spread over two weekends and provides basic outdoor skills in any environment.
But what makes Yukon Search and Rescue volunteers different than your average Joe Citizen? As Hudson states “YSAR supplies knowledgeable and trained volunteers. Ten professionally trained volunteers will be a lot more effective than 100 untrained.”
Each year the number of callouts varies, with last year seeing approximately 15 actual searches from 25 possible callouts, but volunteers are on-call 24-7.
“Before joining, talk with your employer and family. It is on-call and you need to ensure your employer is ok with last minute time taken from work,” Hudson says.
“People are trained in search skills, survival skills, management skills and can apply these skills in other parts of your life. For a lot [of volunteers] the social aspect with like-minded people is what draws them to YSAR,” says Terry Hauff, director of operations.
But why spend your personal time being sent into the Yukon wilderness looking for a stranger?
“More likely the callout will be 2 a.m.in the pouring rain and bushwhacking,” Hudson says. “It’s not glamorous, but it is rewarding.”
Would You Like to be a Search and Rescue Volunteer?
Are you interested in the outdoors? Would you like a new challenge? Do you have the time and commitment to help Yukon’s communities? If becoming a Yukon Search and Rescue volunteer interests you, contact the organization by email at [email protected]
A training course begins Friday, Sept. 29. The next course will be in the spring of 2018.
For more information go to www.YukonSAR.org.