Death of a Volunteer

Death of a Volunteer

I heard about the death of a member of Nelson SAR late last night. News like this moves very quickly in the SAR community. Today they found her body, and members of her team took her home.

I have no special insight to share about the nature of her accident, and no speculation or thoughts as to how it could have been prevented; that’s for others to do. I’m just another SAR member in BC who is feeling the loss of a member of the SAR community – not nearly as much loss as her friends, family and team mates, that’s certain. But when one of us is injured or hurt while on the job, all of us feel the pain, even if only a little.

We all know the risks of SAR as well as we know the risks of any backcountry pursuit. After all, we are the ones doing the rescues, treating the injuries, and recovering the bodies. Any SAR member, even after a short time on a SAR team, sees some of this. Accidents happen. Sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes it’s the conditions, and sometimes it’s a combination of factors that lead to a disastrous outcome.

We get used to the tragedy. Not all SAR Tasks end well, and we’re present when the friends and family of those lost are suffering their minutes and hours of grief, and sometimes the horrible news that their loved one has not been found, or has been found deceased.

Today, all SAR members in BC know how it feels to get that news.

We are volunteers. We are also professionals. We take our time, our effort and our skills, and we try to change someone’s life by assisting them in their time of need. We train to strict standards, and become experts in evaluating risk in many different situations; on the trail, on the rock, on the snow and on the water. We know the risk, and we make every effort to preserve our safety; the safety of ourselves, our team and the subject.

Sheilah Sweatman was 29. According to her profile on the Call-Out web site, she was one of Nelson SAR’s newest members as of 2010. Reading her blog on the same site I can see that she was enjoying the work, and going through much of the same training that I have done over the years. She had the kind of spirit and enthusiasm I’ve come to recognize in the most dedicated of SAR members, the kind everyone wants on their team.

To her family, friends, loved ones and team mates; know that every member of the thousands of volunteers in the SAR community in BC has you in our thoughts.

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