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Funding for search and rescue units under scrutiny

Time better spent on training than bottle drives
Funding for the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue units in B.C. have come under scrutiny after a serious accident of one of the Sooke Stations boats during a training accident. (file photo)

A system that sees volunteers with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue dedicate some of their time, not to training, but to fundraising for basic equipment, has seen the CEO of the service admit that the funding model is “not ideal.”

That funding model was raised as an issue by a number of past search and rescue members in the wake of a serious accident on Jan. 7 in which a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue boat ran aground and flipped upside down during a training exercise in Sooke harbour.

RELATED: Accident not part of the training

That accident is under investigation.

“It’s really ridiculous that people who are volunteering their time for a serious and life-saving service have to go out and do a bottle drive to get three or four hundred dollars to buy equipment, but that was the expectation,” said Scott Burchett.

Burchett left the volunteer search and rescue organization two years ago for reasons other than the fundraising requirement, but lists the funding model as one of the factors that may have contributed to what he described as a negative culture within the organization.

“Really, think about it. There’s this expectation. You’re training, on call for emergencies, and you want me to go out and do fundraising?”

RELATED: Concerns about RCM-SAR cite negative culture in Sooke

The problem has already drawn the attention of the federal government.

Following the issue of a Senate report on Nov. 29, 2018, Sen. Marc Gold, the vice chair of the committee, said, “The reason they have to fundraise is that their budgets are not adequate to fund capital replacement and sometimes even basic maintenance. ”

Pat Quealey, the CEO of Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue for B.C., explained that there are basically three “buckets of money” from which the organization draws its funding.

“We get about $1.3 million from the Coast Guard for operational funds to run the headquarters and reimburse the stations for operational and training costs, but those funds cannot be used for capital acquisition (the purchase of new boats for example),” explained Quealey.

In addition, the organization annually applies for a Community Gaming Grant that is generally capped at $100,000 per station annually and is not a guaranteed funding source. In 2018 the total gaming grant for all stations amounted to $1.87 million.

“The third bucket is the money we raise through public and private donations. That’s where the fundraising comes in.”

That fundraising has taken the form of beer and burger nights, bottle drives and providing services at special events like the polar bear swim, for which the organization receives a stipend.

Public appeals are also part of that fundraising and a glance at the Station 37 website reveals a donation page where appeals to the public for funding include categories with specific purchases that the donation will make possible.

At the $20 level, for example, the donation will buy a flashlight or knife for a crew member and at the $50 level, the donation will furnish boots for a search and rescue volunteer.

“From our perspective, the funding model is not ideal. I couldn’t concur more that our members shouldn’t be expected to (simultaneously) do fundraising and operations,” said Quealey.

It’s a tremendous draw on their energy … energy that should be dedicated to training. They should only have to concentrate on operations.”

Quealey was quick to add that there is no clear indication that the funding situation and training of the boat crew had any role in the recent crash, but said that the investigation will be examining all the factors that could have contributed to the situation.

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