LETTER: Volunteers risk their lives yet government slow to investigate

By Contributor
June 10th, 2012

It’s just under a year that Search and Rescue volunteer Sheilah Sweatman went out on a “recovery mission” near Nelson, B.C. only to have her life ripped away.This past weekend two more female search and rescue volunteers lost their lives in a “training mission” near Skookumchuck Rapids just outside of Halfmoon Bay, B.C.

What the public needs to know is these women have families and whole communities left behind wondering – why?

Not why they chose to be volunteers.But why they lost their lives while participating in their chosen volunteer positions.  

Surely there must be policies and protocols to follow. Is there fault in those policies and protocols? Who is responsible to see that those policies and protocols are followed? If there is fault in the existing policies and protocols, who is going to see that they are changed so accidents like these don’t happen again?

It is reported that both incidences are under investigation.

In fact, the inquest into Sheilah Sweatman’s accident was to commence June 4.  The key word here is “was”.  The B.C. coroner’s office postponed the inquest on May 28. The information bulletin reports the delay was found to be necessary to ensure availability of all required witnesses.  They have had 11 months to prepare for this inquest and the incident was witnessed by RCMP, SARS members and it was videotaped.  It occurs to me that the agencies that are responsible for investigating these incidents may be disorganized or incompetent.

So while it is reported that the incidences are under investigation I question whether there may be a conflict of interest in that the investigators work for Work Safe BC, Emergency BC.  Along with the Coroner’s Service they all work for Ministry of Justice.

Will they be out to protect themselves and their departments or will they find fault in their policies, procedures and protocols and determine what is needed to protect our SARS teams and their volunteers.

The families of these volunteers and the general public are entitled to a thorough and complete investigation, with expert witnesses providing input. After all it could be your child, brother, sister, mother or father volunteering who’s life is in jeopardy next.

We the public, need to demand these investigations be thorough, transparent and objective.

Sheilah was a former resident of Winnipeg, she has family and friends in Winnipeg, Alberta, B.C. and Europe still grieving her death and wondering what if anything will come out of this investigation.

Will Sheilah’s death just be another statistic? Or will it start an overhaul of the policies, procedures and protocols in place protecting future SAR personnel both paid and volunteers?

I am not related to Sheilah or her family, but I have witnessed the devastation her death has had on her family. Search and Rescue teams all across Canada depend on volunteers. There are several incidences every week where they are called into duty. The safety of all SAR personnel both paid and unpaid should be of utmost importance.


Avis L’Esperance
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Categories: GeneralOp/Ed