Burns Lake Search and Rescue (SAR) manager

Burns Lake SAR leader recognized by province

John Rempel’s busy search and rescue summer highlights need for more volunteers

Burns Lake Search and Rescue (SAR) manager and Village of Burns Lake emergency program co-ordinator, John Rempel recently received the 2013 Search and Rescue Volunteer of the Year award from B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton in Victoria.

Rempel has been a volunteer with SAR and Burns Lake emergency preparedness since 1989.

“I had just finished a wildfire plan for the forest service, so I felt well-prepared for the work,” Rempel recalled. “But there was a lot more to it [emergency preparedness] when you look at all kinds of disasters, not just wildfires. But I put a plan together.”

Rempel’s 35 years working for the B.C. forest service saw the ministry go through many name changes (now encompassed under the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations). In Rempel’s time, the fire protection service was not the stand-alone Wildfire Management Branch we are familiar with today.

“In the early years, the [forest] fires were just part of our job,” Rempel said. “We had three fire information teams in the late 80s and early 90s until the fire protection service separated from the regular service. I was in charge of one of those three-man teams for a number of big fires, like the 1994 Garnet fire.”

The Garnet fire was a complicated urban interface fire near Penticton B.C. that spread quickly to over 13,500 acres in size, destroyed 18 homes, required the evacuation of more than 3,500 people, and cost $5 million to put out.

Today, Rempel’s challenges involve smaller scale events, but events nonetheless very traumatic to the people affected. This past summers was a challenging season for Burns Lake Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteers.

“At one point we had three searches going on at the same time,” Rempel said. “We had  the Takysie Lake one, a Saskatoon-berry picker in Eagle Creek and a missing boater on Ootsa Lake… With three going at one time you’re really trying to keep everything straight.”

As SAR manager and emergency services co-ordinator, Rempel is the primary co-ordinator between the Burns Lake SAR, RCMP, the Village of Burns Lake, the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako and regional SAR units. He is also a volunteer member of Mennonite Disaster Services, a North American organization that helps rebuild homes after disaster strikes the elderly, handicapped, or others in need. His position with them is to scout ares in Central B.C. after disaster strikes to see if a project is required.

One of Rempel’s biggest challenges these days is SAR recruitment.

“A lot of people have moved away,” he said. “A lot of our people are outdoor logger types and they’re busy in the winter. Most of them are there if we need them, but we need more people willing to go through the ground SAR training and become certified.”

Certification for ground SAR qualifications involves some study over the winter and two weekends of field training in the spring. All of the training is done in Burns Lake and there is plenty of opportunity to advance.

“If you [can] get more qualifications, like team leader or search manager,” Rempel said. “There’s all kinds of specialties, like swift water rescue or avalanche rescue, [but] flat ice rescue and boat rescue are important here.”

The Burns Lake SAR will have an intake in the new year, and a few potential new members have shown interest. Rempel would like to see at least six new members, a good number for group training, but he said they would train new members one-on-one if required.

Modern SAR work isn’t just working in the field during call-outs; it requires people trained and capable of handling the computer and administrative side of a call-out.

“Not only do we need people doing the hiking through the bush, we need people with computer and computer mapping abilities,” Rempel explained. “A few people who maybe can’t hike through the bush but can do some of that kind of stuff would be very helpful.”

For more information on joining the Burns Lake SAR, contact either of the local SAR managers, Rempel or Bill Imus. Rempel can be reached at 250-692-6395.

“It’s been a lot of fun, but there’s been moments of almost anguish when things don’t turn out right,” Rempel recalls of his long volunteer history with SAR. “It’s a way of giving back to the community.”



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

BC VOTES 2020: John Rustad re-elected in Nechako Lakes riding

The result is based on preliminary vote count and the final results will be available after Nov.6

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

The track washrooms will be opened up again next year in May. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Toilets, sinks torn off, graffiti on walls at the Burns Lake track washroom

“Seems to happen once or twice a year” says the Village CAO on the vandalized track washroom

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, Cullen apologize for Stikine candidate’s comments about Haida candidate

Nathan Cullen had made insensitive comments about Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Most Read