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New Search and Rescue group up and hiking

Devin Brady

Jan 31, 2024

SARSAR attended the Tuesday council meeting to update the municipality on the newly formed
organization and their vision to help the community

During the January 23 council meeting vice president of Southwest Alberta Regional Search and Rescue (SARSAR) Andrew Fairhurst and Director at Large Ryan Legroulx attended to give a presentation to inform council on the organization. SARSAR is a relatively new search and rescue organization that is a combination of the former Crowsnest Pass Rescue and Pincher Creek Search and Rescue, which was formed in 1995. As a result of the amalgamation, SARSAR is now attempting to reach out to the community and its leaders in an attempt to give a better understanding of what they do. 

Working under the broad umbrella of Search and Rescue Alberta, SARSAR is a group of volunteers who train and who’s creed is “looking for missing persons and getting them home”. Over the last year the membership base for SARSAR has grown from 21 to 40 members with “over half of them being residents of the Crowsnest Pass” said Fairhurst. Members apply during recruitment drives and the board of directors will assess applications and give offers to those who they believe will have the greatest benefit to the team and overall, the community. With the expansion of memberships, SARSAR has been able to create a dedicated specialized mountain rescue team (MRT). 

In the past, members were primarily ground resources which made for limited access. With the MRT, the team is capable of utilizing programs such as, Human External Cargo (HEC) to be able to rescue patients in locations that are nearly unaccesible to ground resources. As well, it will cut down on response time. HEC involves the use of a long line that is attached to the belly of a helicopter and at the end of the line a rescuer or multiple will be connected. The helicopter can then sling the rescuer to the patient where first aid can be administered if needed. The HEC program allows rescuers to be dropped off in locations that the helicopter cannot land. Duties the MRT will perform include helicopter sling operations, rope rescue, access and extrication, avalanche and avalanche terrain SAR as well as ground SAR. In the past SARSAR would use helicopters from Kananaskis country and were faced with long wait times. They now have contracts with three companies that are local or in nearby communities, within a ten-minute flight. Fairhurst said “HEC makes us an efficient rescue team”.  He also stated that because they are a volunteer organization that has “no direct or budgeted costs” and all expenses are delivered back to the RCMP and not the municipality. 

Members with SARSAR spend “over 2500 hours of volunteer time per year” said Fairhurst. In both training exercises and rescue operations members have been utilizing much of their own personal equipment such as ski-touring equipment. All members are active users of the land base and recreate in various forms, from off-highway vehicles to mountaineering, giving the organization a broad experience pool to choose from. Recently SARSAR was donated a side by side from farmers in the Taber region who recreate frequently in the region. Fairhurst wants to “see SARSAR recognized as the best search and rescue group in western Canada”. As the recreational growth has been exponential in our region with trails such as the Great Divide through trail being complete and an expanse of mountain biking activity it is necessary to have volunteer organizations such as Southwest Alberta Regional Search and Rescue here to assist the public during times of crisis. 

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