The safety and wellbeing of one’s community isn’t usually a priority for teenage boys.
But Ben Nixon and Josh “JJ” Goodison aren’t your average 17- and 18-year-olds.
The altruistic teens are the youngest certified members of Fernie Search and Rescue in the history of the not-for-profit volunteer organization.
Ben and JJ were only 16 when they joined SAR and over the past 1.5 years have juggled monthly training and responding to call outs with the demands of high school and work, sporting and family commitments.
“Ben and JJ are committed members of Fernie SAR and we are lucky to have such talented enthusiastic teenagers in our group,” said Head of Fernie SAR Simon Piney.
“They have committed significant time and effort to their training, and the skills they have acquired will be useful to them not only in SAR, but also in whatever and wherever their careers take them.”
JJ insisted he and his friend weren’t special.
“We just put in our time and stayed with it,” he said.
“For every night that we’ve spent out in the woods, been up too late, run out of food… you get five times as many amazing opportunities and amazing new connections with the town and different people. It’s definitely been worth it for me.”
JJ’s dad is a pilot with SAR and it was his mom who encouraged him to join in October 2016.
“She was the reason I showed up the first time,” he said.
“We bike and ski a lot, so we sort of figured one day we’d be the people phoning and saying ‘we need help, we’re in a crappy situation’. It feels good to help out.”
Ben signed up soon afterwards and together the pair learned skills such as first aid and how to safely operate an ATV. “First aid was huge for me,” said Ben, who works as a bike guide at Fernie Alpine Resort during the summer.
“It kinda opened my eyes to the danger of being out in the backcountry and being prepared. Always take more than you think you need.”
“We’ve got some really awesome courses under our belt now for putting in our time and helping out,” added JJ.
“We’re mixed in now with a really awesome group of people.
“You get to meet all the people who work up at the ski hill, lots of the local guides.”
As ancillary members of SAR, Ben and JJ were called out during the B.C. wildfires last year.
They also assisted with the search for two lost skiers in Lost Boys Pass during their first winter with the organization.
“We just basically sat there and radioed in every 10 minutes when they needed something,” said JJ.
“There were two skiers who were lost and they came back in, and they just looked so beat up, they couldn’t stop thanking us.
“You’re behind the radio, you don’t think it makes that much of a difference but once you see the faces that are out there, you definitely appreciate it.”
The Grade 12 students are planning to study engineering after graduating and hope to continue volunteering with SAR, somewhere in B.C.
They believe their experience in Fernie will help them in their future careers.
“Lots of engineering is thinking outside of box, making use of what you have to solve the problem right in front of your face, which is what search and rescue is all about,” said JJ.
“There’s no book saying ‘if they’re stuck in a tree on their mountain bike and they say their hip hurts, this is exactly what you do’. You need to come with a unique solution for everything, so I’d say that’s one way it’s helped.”
Ben and JJ encouraged other young people to volunteer with Fernie SAR, which covers a significant portion of southeastern B.C. and diverse terrain.
“If you want to gain some knowledge, work as part of a team (and) contribute to an important part of the community, I would definitely recommend volunteering,” said Ben.