By Vanessa Broadbent
Nina Munckhof didn’t consider herself much of an outdoors enthusiast before joining Oliver Osoyoos Search and Rescue (OOSAR). She had only been camping twice and didn’t know how to use a compass.
Now Munckhof, OOSAR’s treasurer, is trained for swift water and flat ice rescue, tracking, as well as basic wilderness survival and first aid.
For Tanja Kranz, OOSAR’s team leader, being outdoors was a regularity and OOSAR was an opportunity to give back to the community while spending time in nature.
However, both Kranz and Munckhof say they were surprised by the connections they’ve made through their time on the team.
“I didn’t expect it to become such a family,” Munckhof said. “The entire team came to my wedding.”
“I’ve definitely made a family here,” Kranz said. “There’s a level of trust there. I trust the people I work with immensely and you have to in our job.”
Kranz is also OOSAR’s longest member and says a lot has changed since she first started in 2008.
The team used to respond to only a handful of calls every year. This year, they’ve already had 24.
“There’s more people exploring the outdoors that are getting themselves into trouble,” Kranz said. “A lot more people want those selfie shots.”
But it’s also because the team no longer only responds to local calls; they now assist nearby teams in Penticton, Keremeos and Princeton regularly.
This is because OOSAR has expanded their specialized teams, including rope rescue, swift water, ice rescue, avalanche and tracking.
With this diversity in training, each call is unique, whether it be rescuing an ATV rider that had a few too many drinks in the bush and sustained an injury, or a hiker whose phone died after all the pictures he/she took.
“You get people that are so busy texting and taking pictures and selfies that when they do need their phone, the battery’s dead,” OOSAR member and secretary Kyle Fossett said.
However, occasionally those photos can come in handy. Fossett said the team was once able to locate a missing skier on Mount Baldy because he found cell service and was able to text photos of his location to his friends.
Sometimes, the call is memorable because it shouldn’t have happened, like the time the team spent an entire day searching for a missing woman in Princeton who was already at home.
“She never actually did get off the bus in Princeton,” Fossett said. “If you show somebody a picture and say ‘have you seen this person?’ they will have seen them, even if they never got off the bus. That’s what I found out on that call.”
Call types change throughout the year as well. In spring when water levels are high, OOSAR’s swift water team is in their busiest season. Summer is when more hikers are hitting the trails – and getting lost. In the fall, hunters go missing and in winter the team is looking for missing skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers.
Fossett said that many calls could be prevented if people packed properly, had a trip plan, told someone where they were going and stayed sober.
But not every call can be avoided.
Erika Robinson, OOSAR’s vice-president, said she’s been on a few calls that included searching for someone with a mental illness or degenerative disease such a Alzheimers.
“You can’t prevent that,” she said.
Regardless, each call is rewarding.
For Fossett, the most memorable was a search for missing hikers in Cathedral Provincial Park several years ago that included teams from across the province.
On the seventh day of the search, the hikers’ family was flown out to the park. That’s when they showed up.
“I wasn’t out on the search at that point, but just to hear it – I knew the hours that our team put in and the manpower that was out there,” Fossett said. “We put all this effort into this and unfortunately we didn’t have anybody, but then they showed up. They saw a helicopter and picked their way back to the lodge.”
Over the past decade, OOSAR has doubled from 10 members to 20 and they’re hoping to recruit more.
On Tuesday, OOSAR is hosting an open house so that anyone interested can learn more about what’s involved and apply to be a volunteer.
“In the past, they needed members so bad if you were a warm body, you were in,” Robinson explained. “But now because we have a team and we want to build on that, it’s become a bit more formal.”
At the open house, people can fill out applications or submit their name if they’re interested. The next step is an interview and, if selected to join the team, 70 hours of training.
The team is hoping to show the public that joining search and rescue doesn’t have to mean putting yourself in danger or your life at risk.
Before joining OOSAR, Fossett said he thought all teams were like the ones he saw in the media: “gung-ho outdoor people.”
“That’s what I thought search and rescue people were, but you come in this room when the whole team is here and we’ve got the outdoor people or the hunters, or people that just want to give back. It is a wide spectrum of people and not that one little segment that I thought it was.”
It’s that level of diversity that the team is hoping to expand.
“We want to open that door up to people. It’s not just us ground pounders that we need. We need people here loading equipment, paperwork,” Kranz said.
Most of all, OOSAR is hoping to expand their family and find members that are a positive contribution to the team.
“Especially with this group, if anything, it comes down to having friends and family here,” Robinson said. “I’m doing this for free on the side of everything else I do, but coming here, it changes my mood and it’s the people here that do that.
The open house is on Tuesday, August 28 at 7 p.m. at OOSAR’s facility at 5868 Cessna St.