MONASTERY – Three years ago Strait Area Search and Rescue had only half the money it required to purchase a building needed for its headquarters — and a looming deadline to come up with the other half. The situation looked bleak. Volunteer numbers were down and ongoing funding challenges were wearing on the small core group trying to keep things going.
While funding challenges continue today, the group did finally secure the building it needed in Monastery, and that made all the difference. With a central home for its equipment, training exercises and monthly meetings, volunteer numbers are now up and the organization has experienced a revival of sorts.
“This hall has allowed us to stay in business,” over the past 2.5 years, Tony Sampson, treasurer and resident of Havre Boucher, told The Journal. Before that time, the group had only about 15 active members. “And you can’t function with 15,” he said.
The group now has about 75 volunteers. Over the past two years, Sampson said more women than men have been joining. Now at each monthly meeting one or two new volunteers show up to join.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, Strait Area Search and Rescue held a mock rescue exercise at its Monastery headquarters. It’s something they try to do every year or two, both as a training opportunity for newer volunteers and as a refresher for others. The search scenario presented to the volunteers was of a hunter who did not return home at the end of the day.
In the truck that serves as the control centre for a search and rescue operation, more people than usual were crowded around as new people are trained on the modern computer equipment used to keep track of search teams in the woods or along the shore.
Sampson said another important purpose of the mock exercise is to test systems and procedures to identify any problems that need to be addressed.
“I’d rather find out something isn’t working quite the way it is supposed to here (as opposed to in a real emergency).”
Strait Area Search and Rescue responds to needs from the Pictou County line down to Judique in Cape Breton, much of Richmond County and everything in between.
This past year the organization asked the seven municipalities in its catchment area to each contribute $5000 to support its work and help address funding needs. Contributions ranged from $1000 to $5000 (with only one municipality contributing the higher amount), for a total of $18,000.
Sampson said he would like to see a small levy on tax bills in this area to provide much-needed support for the organization, similar to what is done for fire departments, but for a much smaller amount. He said the group receives $3000 a year from the provincial government — an amount that has not increased in 30 years.
Strait Area Search and Rescue was started by Terrence Terrio of St. Peter’s in 1980. He served as president for 35 years and was onsite for Sunday’s training exercise.
Terrio said the group used to be on high alert during the hunting season, because that’s when most of the searches took place. Now the need is year-round, he said, because people are hiking in the woods throughout the year.