GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL – When the Exploits Search and Rescue team is out in the bush trying to save lives, the last thing members need to worry about is faulty equipment.
After a truly herculean fundraising effort, along with some particularly productive partnerships, that worry – and the former school bus that functioned as the command centre – is a thing of the past.
“It means stability,” team spokesperson Trevor Miller said Feb. 1 at the unveiling of the brand -new command centre vehicle. “It means knowing that when we get a call out, we know we’re prepared.”
The process to get the new vehicle began in 2015 when the team recognized it needed to replace the nearly 30-year-old school bus members had been relying on. What began as a $200,000-expense grew to closer to $300,000, and the volunteer team members knew they would have to change tactics. They reached their target, and then some, ahead of schedule.
“It’s one of the most important assets we have for our team,” Miller told the 40 or so people gathered at the group’s garage for the unveiling. “It’s our radio base, it’s where the generators are, there’s a kitchen, it acts as a warming station… You can even sometimes find a few people sleeping in it on long call outs where we work in shifts.”
The Exploits team is the second busiest of the province’s 27 crews, coming in only after a St. John’s group. The team responds to an average of 15 to 20 call outs a year, which can be anything from saving a stranded hunter or fisherman to recovering the bodies of people who go missing or take their own lives.
Created to assist the RCMP with ground searches, the team now also provides first aid services at events in Grand Falls-Windsor. Its jurisdiction reaches from Harbour Breton and Bay d’Espoir in the south, to Notre Dame Bay and Gander Bay in the north, and from Badger Lake in the west to Glenwood in the east.
That kind of travel makes a reliable, cost-effective command centre a necessity.
The Bishop’s Falls Lions Club recognized how vital such a piece of equipment would be and rose to meet the challenge. The Lions applied to the international governing body of the organization and were eventually approved for $100,000 USD in matching funds.
Both Miller and Lions Club member David Alcock said it was a victory, but also a daunting hurdle to overcome. To receive the full amount, the team would have to raise the same from the communities it serves.
“We still had a lot of work to do, a lot of way to go,” Miller said. “We hit the street, and we hit it hard.”
In 14 months, the team had raised the money to access the Lions Club’s matching funding, bringing the total to about $350,000. Miller said almost every community in the Exploits Valley contributed, including municipalities, businesses and individuals.
“Not everyone realizes what goes on behind the scenes, how much work goes into being a volunteer,” said Alcock, noting that every Lions Club in the area had to agree to let the Bishop’s Falls group access the international money, preventing individual clubs from doing so themselves.
“This will help Search and Rescue save lives. As Lions, we’re especially proud to be part of that process.”