PEOPLE AND AWARDS
In memoriam: Sheilah Sweatman
For search-and-rescue practitioners, risk is a fact of life. At any moment, of any day, during any rescue, risk is present: in the form of weather, terrain, and the potential for personal injury and even death and SAR responders will admit to a healthy respect for the risks inherent with their jobs.
As a member of the Kootenay Swift Water Specialists, a combined BC Volunteer Search and Rescue Association team from the West Kootenay region, Sheilah Sweatman was often called out to operate in difficult situations – rescuing individuals in distress or conducting operations in fast moving waters. It was a volunteer job she was passionate about and to which she had committed herself to for the past two years.
When Sweatman and her search and rescue team colleagues were called out to the swollen Goat River near Creston, British Columbia on June 29th, the risks inherent in swift water operations became a sad reality. As she worked with her team to recover a submerged vehicle, Sweatman fell from a rescue boat into the swollen river and did not surface. In a brief instant, the woman passionate about rescuing those in need herself became a victim.
For her teammates, Sweatman's drowning – and their recovery of her body from the river the next day – was a devastating reminder of the very dangers they may face with each and every rescue.
This tragic accident touched not only those who worked with Sweatman, but also members of the Canadian SAR community from coast to coast to coast. For British Columbia, her death marked the first operational death in the province's history of an on-duty ground SAR volunteer, and was a tragic example of the selfless commitment and bravery demonstrated by SAR responders across Canada and around the world.
The memory of Sheilah Sweatman's passion and dedication to "provide help to other people" – as her father was quoted as saying after her death – continues to underline the commitment made by search and rescue volunteers each and every day. It inspires those who knew her, or of her, to continue their efforts to help those in need and "maybe save a life" as Sweatman was fond of saying.
Her commitment to SAR will also live on; a number of SAR groups in British Columbia are naming boats and facilities in her honour. In addition, her family in Manitoba has taken in a German Shepherd puppy she had recently adopted and intended to train for avalanche search and rescue. With support from local SAR organizations and the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner's K9 coordinator to assist with training, her family hopes to fulfill her wish.
National SAR Program Awards of Excellence
Across the country, search and rescue full-time staff and volunteers commit their time and skills to help save the lives of those in need. Each year, a few individual SAR specialists and SAR teams distinguish themselves through their exceptional acts and dedication – contributing above and beyond to the success of prevention and response under the National Search and Rescue Program.
The National Search and Rescue Program Awards of Excellence recognize these exemplary acts. They honour those whose achievements have brought great benefit to the practice of search and rescue in Canada, and celebrate the diversity and successes of award recipient contributions.
Revitalized in 2009, the awards program was modernized to effectively recognize the full spectrum of partners and activities and their contributions to the National SAR Program as a whole. Nominated in one of program's five categories – education, innovation, leadership, research or exemplary service – this year's award recipients exemplify the diversity of skills and activities in SAR and demonstrate excellence and outstanding commitment to improving SAR prevention and response across Canada.
Education and Training
Ted Rankine and Dr. Gordon Geisbrecht, Ph. D.
Dr. Gordon Geisbrecht and Ted Rankine are receiving the 2011 National Search and Rescue Program Award of Excellence for Education and Training, for their ground-breaking work in developing and implementing Cold Water Boot Camp and Beyond Cold Water Boot Camp, prevention initiatives that educate, inform, motivate and change behaviour to increase survival in cold water and reduce cold water-related deaths.
These programs reach out to first responders, the boating community and the general public, to inform them about the risks of cold water immersion, encourage lifejacket wear, and provide first responders with the knowledge and tools to deal effectively with severely hypothermic victims and increase their survival rates. These innovative programs build on solid, evidence-based research into hypothermia and cold water impacts; provide practical and effective education and training, were designed to be widely accessible to target communities through education materials, web content, and hands-on workshops; and extend their reach and impact through partnerships with prevention and outreach organizations.
Dr. Geisbrecht and Ted Rankine's work has had a significant impact in the first responder and boating safety communities as well as with the public in Canada and internationally. Over 5000 DVD's have been distributed to a wide variety of agencies, organizations and individuals who have used it in outreach and prevention activities. Research ahs show that after viewing the program, boaters report that the message has had a lasting effect and have passed the messages on to family, friends and fellow boaters. There are clear improvements in attitudes towards wearing lifejackets and being more informed about ways to improve cold water survivability, and viewers are more likely to always wear a lifejacket after viewing the video that before.
The programs have experienced great success in changing behaviour and are being used extensively for education and outreach. See www.coldwaterbootcamp.com for more information.
Greg McCormick has been committed to Prince Edward Island Ground Search and Rescue (PEIGSAR) for the past 10 years. The volunteer hours that he has contributed have been well above that of other members and of normal expectations. He has attended several SARscene conferences and has earned a very good reputation both at the local and national levels. Mr. McCormick has been invited to participate on the National Search and Rescue Secretariat's New Initiatives Fund Merit Board, which is strong endorsement to his skills and commitment to ground search and rescue. As a member of PEIGSAR, he has recognized the team's many needs, and felt he could provide assistance by being an elected member of the executive. Outside of his SAR activities, Mr. McCormick is a first aid instructor, a radio communications instructor, a member of the Brookvale Ski Patrol, and is employed as a 911 operator with the RCMP Telecom Centre. He used his skills and resources to assist PEIGSAR with regular first aid training, increasing radio communications for team members, seeking funding for new equipment and training. He spent hundreds of hours researching equipment and funding sources and maintained contact with other ground SAR teams and various government departments. As a result of Mr. McCormick's extensive research, planning and execution, PEIGSAR is now better equipped with radios, computers, mapping technology and logistical equipment (vehicles, trailers, etc.) The Team is also now better equipped for water and shoreline searches, and is well on the way to becoming self-sufficient with training needs. His commitment has been very beneficial for PEI, and is being recognized by his being the 2011 recipient of the 2011 National SAR Program Award of Excellence for Exemplary Service.
Sgt. Randy Antonio – Winnipeg Police Service
As a result of his many years of dedicated service and commitment to the development of the Winnipeg Search and Rescue (WINSAR) Chapter, as well as his commitment to the development of the Search and Rescue Manitoba Volunteer Association (SARMAN), Sgt. Randy Antonio is being awarded the 2011 National Search and Rescue Program Award of Excellence for Innovation. WINSAR was established under the leadership and vision of Sgt. Antonio following a number of high profile missing person files within the boundaries of the City of Winnipeg. These searches required the province to request trained volunteers from the surrounding rural teams in order to provide leadership to the members of the Winnipeg Police Service, as well as the numerous untrained volunteers from within the City of Winnipeg who came out to search. As a trained SAR volunteer with the South Interlake SAR Chapter, Sgt. Antonio was familiar with the SARMAN network established by the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner. Sgt. Antonio took it upon himself as a member of the Winnipeg Police Service to gather support from its executive, and began the development of a Winnipeg Chapter within the SARMAN network. Over the past eight years, Sgt. Antonio has selflessly dedicated himself to the development of the WPS's search and rescue team, recognizing the agency's mandated requirement to lead search efforts for lost or missing persons within the City of Winnipeg. Sgt. Antonio has also focused his efforts on expanding this capacity through the development of the Winnipeg Search and Rescue (WINSAR) Volunteer Chapter of the SARMAN network. Under the leadership and guidance of Sgt. Antonio, the WINSAR program has focused on the development of skills to support ground SAR in an "urban" environment. Prior to the development of the WINSAR program, this capacity did not exist within the City of Winnipeg or the Province of Manitoba. The WINSAR program has since expanded to support the overall provincial SARMAN program.
Staff Sergeant Don Webster, Ontario Provincial Police
S/Sgt. Don Webster is receiving the 2011 National Search and Rescue Program Award of Excellence for Leadership as a result of a career long commitment to search and rescue (SAR), including nine years as the Emergency Response Team (ERT) Coordinator/Search Manager, and nine years as the Provincial Search and Rescue Coordinator for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) leading volunteers and emergency response team members for ground SAR in Ontario.
S/Sgt. Webster's ERT team was responsible for approximately 50 search operations in Central Ontario. Until 2009, he assumed the role of Provincial SAR Coordinator for the OPP where he was responsible for coordinating the delivery of the search and rescue program of the Emergency Response Team (250 members) within the OPP. Annually, the OPP responds to approximately 300 – 400 lost person searches. His duties within the unit also included making recommendations to the program manager for efficiencies and changes to policies and procedures where appropriate. S/Sgt. Webster created a data base with statistics gathered from these searches, sharing them with Robert Koester for use in his book "Lost Person Behaviour" allowing this experience to be used in searches around the world. During this period, S/Sgt. Webster was a liaison with representatives from volunteer and federal SAR organizations and other police departments to implement, enhance, monitor and support SAR partnerships, share experimental learning and cooperatively resolve issues of common interest. In addition to his multitude of partnerships with various organizations and levels of government, he is a Project Lifesaver instructor and was instrumental in setting up OPP protocol for chapters across the province, and sits on the Canadian Project Lifesaver Board. His efforts in partnership building with preventative SAR programs for long term care facilities and educating ERT members about missing persons with dementia have enhanced the OPP SAR response when dealing with elderly missing persons. S/Sgt. Webster's involvement with air and ground SAR volunteer associations has resulted in increased partnerships and use of assets to assist with ground and air search operations. All of these projects have provincial impact and will be in place long after S/Sgt. Webster has moved on, allowing citizens to benefit from the 19 years he has dedicated to search and rescue.
In each of the award categories, the recipients share a common commitment to excellence in SAR and a desire to continuously improve SAR for the benefit of others. For the National SAR Program, they represent the commitment and selfless desire to help others that defines SAR practionners across the country.
The 2011 National Search and Rescue Program Awards of Excellence will be presented to these deserving recipients during a dinner banquet in their honour to be held during the SARscene conference on October 30th, 2011 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
For information on the National Search and Rescue Program Awards of Excellence, or to find how how to nominate someone for an award, visit the National Search and Rescue Secretariat's website at www.nss-snrs.gc.ca.
Governor General's Awards for Bravery
Created in 1972, the Governor General's Decorations for Bravery recognize people who have risked their lives to try to save or to protect the lives of others. Individuals and groups may be nominated for one of three levels of decoration: The Cross of Valour, The Star of Courage, or the Medal of Bravery.
From all walks of life, this year's recipients included police, firefighters, military personnel, SAR specialists, as well as individuals who had been nominated and chosen for having taken extraordinary measures demonstrating bravery and conspicuous courage.
The Governor General presented two Stars of Courage and 42 Medals of Bravery at a ceremony held on May 6th 2011 at Rideau Hall.
Among this year's recipients of the Medal of Bravery were military search and rescue technicians Sergeant André Hotton and Master Corporal Julien Gauthier who, on November 19, 2008, rescued three people from a sinking barge, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Responding to a distress call stating that the barge was in trouble in heavy seas, a military helicopter was sent to the site to evacuate the people on board. Despite several failed rescue attempts and a recommendation that operations cease due to low fuel and approaching darkness, the pilot and crew opted to continue – resulting in the successful rescue of all on board.
For a complete listing of the Decorations for Bravery presented in May 2011 please visit the Governor General's website at www.gg.ca.
Appointment, Retirement, Awards
David Schaffer was named Acting Fire Commissioner for the province of Manitoba on August 2, 2011. Born in Manitoba, Schaffer has been with the Office of the Fire Commissioner for 14 years prior to which he spent 15 years with Manitoba Conservation working in the department's wild fire program.
Daniel Lévesque (France) has retired after 24 years as Head of the Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat. Following his retirement, Steven Lett (United States) has taken over as Head of the Secretariat effective August 1, 2011.
Tim Jones, Team Leader with North Shore Rescue (NSR) in British Columbia, was awarded the Order of British Columbia on October 4, 2011 at Government House in Victoria. The award recognized Jones' 24 years of volunteer service as a dedicated Search and Rescue practitioner and team leader during which he has participated in more than 1400 SAR tasks and saved countless lives. Jones' contributions to NSR have been significant: leading the use of helicopter based long-line rescue, developing protocols for the treatment of hypothermia, initiating a kayak team, and implementing an area wide communications system now in use by other SAR teams.