Search and Rescue could dissolve without funding support

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – The volunteer organization that rescues people who are lost could use a little rescuing of its own. Without funding support, the group may dissolve at the end of this year. In that case, those needing help could wait hours for a team from another area of Nova Scotia to arrive.

In recent years, Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue worked to secure its own building to store a growing collection of vital equipment -- computers, radios, maps etc. The group recognized that having it all in one location would help with speedy response to calls. It would also give them a place to host meetings and training.

Last year a solution appeared to be found when the group acquired a building in Monastery. They provided a downpayment of $25,000 to secure the property and now have until Dec. 16, 2016 to come up with the remainder.

The organization approached the eight municipalities in its catchment area of the Strait Area for funds for the purchase and upkeep of the building. The request was for $10,500 to help with the purchase of the building. To date, they received approval for $5000 from Inverness and $10,500 from the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, the latter with the stipulation that the funds would be given if the other municipal units contributed. St. Mary’s has said no to the request and this week the group received word that it will get $10,500 in support from the Town of Antigonish. So far Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue has not heard back from any of the other units.

If they don’t raise the balance by mid-December, they will be forced to forfeit the building and lose their $25,000 deposit. And if that happens, the group plans to dissolve, says president Cecil Cashin of Port Felix.

“We’ve got so much equipment now, it’s just not feasible (to continue without a building),” says Cashin. In the past they relied on maps and compasses, but now their work is largely computerized. That involved different equipment, and ongoing training -- which takes place once or twice a month in the new building. The dedicated building means all of the equipment can be loaded on one truck and taken immediately to the search site.

With the new space, “I don’t have to worry when I get to a search that I’m not going to have a piece of equipment we need,” Cashin said, pointing out that it’s a small amount of money they are seeking to continue to provide search and rescue support to this region. He said of the 24 Search and Rescue teams in the province, 16 get funding from municipalities. The 80-person Strait Area team does not.

MODG Warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal it shouldn’t be a question of if the group should have the support of public funds, but how. “We have to pay for it,” he said during an interview Friday. “We just have to figure out who is going to pay for it.”

Pitts likens the funding support to insurance -- you need to pay for it but you hope you never have to use it.

The warden has been in contact with MLA Lloyd Hines about the situation and would like to see provincial government support for the purchase and maintenance of the building. The province does provide $3000 in annual funding, which Cashin says helps pay for insurance, and has classified Search and Rescue as an emergency services provider in Nova Scotia. Pitts said he will continue to discuss the matter with MLA Hines.

Strait Area Ground Search and Rescue is urging residents in their coverage area to get in touch with their municipal councillors to convey their support for the organization.