The Fernie SAR used their helicopter long-line gear for 10 to 12 rescues in 2021. (Courtesy of Simon Piney)

The Fernie SAR used their helicopter long-line gear for 10 to 12 rescues in 2021. (Courtesy of Simon Piney)

Advice from Fernie Search and Rescue for the summer season

Calling it in when flipping a raft on the river is very important, according to Simon Piney

When the summer bloom was beginning to hit the Elk Valley, the head of Fernie Search and Rescue (FSAR) had some advice for outdoor recreators.

Simon Piney of FSAR said they entered into summer mode following a quiet shoulder season and a busy winter.

FSAR had their first three rescue calls of the season on June 4 and two more on June 8.

“The last few days suggest that summer season is kicking off,” Piney said then.

They anticipate that there will be ‘plenty’ of bikers and hikers that will have issues, and that it will be a usual summer.

“Just looking around town, lots of trail heads are already looking extremely busy,” he said.

“The more people who are out on the trails, the more likely it is that someone will get into trouble.”

Over the winter, there were about 20 calls, most of which were snowmobile related, with a lot involving ‘very significant trauma.’

In the summer, the typical call involves injured mountain bikers. There are also lost hikers, water-related incidents on the Elk River and Lake Koocanusa, and ATV or UTV turnovers.

In particular, Piney highlighted challenges with river users.

People should inform themselves about the safer and more dangerous parts of the river, he said.

“When things go wrong and they flip their raft, and they manage to get out, it’s really important that they call that in.”

“Speak to the local RCMP, or even call 911, and just state: ‘I had a red raft, I was on the Elk River between Hosmer and Fernie, and I flipped it, but we’re all out.’”

Otherwise, he said, the FSAR gets calls for overturned rafts, and they spend a lot of time clearing the river to make sure there isn’t someone in trouble or drowned.

“It’s a huge use of resources, and it’s not a very efficient use of our resources,” Piney said.

“We could be out doing that while someone else is in real trouble.”

For example, last summer, they had one afternoon where that happened three times.

“Three overturned rafts floating down, and three times we had to go out with a swift water team, couple of occasions with a helicopter,” he said.

Communication is critical for rescues, Piney explained.

He said people in need of a rescue should make the call early, before nightfall, and travel with a satellite communication device in case there is no cell service available. He also suggested people ask directly for search and rescue and specify it’s a back country emergency to speed up the dispatching process.

“At the end of the day, that’s what we do. We help people when they get into trouble.”

“We are very happy to do so.”

fernieSearch and RescueSummer