Search and Rescue – Equipped for Anything

Search and Rescue – Equipped for Anything

Story and photos by Spencer Whitney

“They ask so little, but give so much”

Ten years ago, Ian Mackenzie and his wife learned first-hand what it’s like to be extracted by a Search and Rescue team. When a sunny afternoon hike in California turned in to an unexpected blizzard, they became stranded at the top of a mountain. Thankfully a local SAR agency was able to find them before the night was through. If you pay attention to the media in Western Canada, stories like this are almost a daily occurrence. Ian, who now operates vehicle lighting manufacturer BrightSource with partners, decided recently that he was in the perfect position to give back to SAR agencies right here at home.

Being prepared in the backcountry is essential, and any off-roader will tell you that having the right equipment and supplies can make all the difference. However, many others who enjoy the wilderness do not have the luxury of being able to carry more gear than is necessary, so when disaster strikes – bad weather, an injury, or simply getting lost – there’s less room for error. As daylight dwindles and temperatures drop, rescuers know every passing minute counts. That’s where high-power LED lighting makes all the difference. Light is an essential tool for any rescue, whether for seeing the road ahead clearly or providing task lighting at a rescue scene.

While most of the public is aware of what Search and Rescue groups do, many people do not realize that SAR teams and their support staff are made up entirely of volunteers – everyday people who dedicate thousands of hours a year to training, education, and rescue operations – and these teams will never ask for any kind of payment for a rescue, ever. In British Columbia, there are currently 80 SAR groups consisting of over 2,500 volunteers, each with different operational requirements. Urban agencies may respond to a high volume of rescues due to population size and proximity to backcountry, while rural teams could have massive areas to cover when answering calls. These groups cover every square kilometre of the province in one way or another, to ensure that no rescue goes unanswered.

“We’re not sure everyone recognizes that these organizations are built on an incredibly strong volunteer base,” says Ian. “These folks are called out at any time – seemingly always at night – and respond with no hesitation to the call for help.” Many rescues also take place on foot – SAR teams are usually called in to areas that are simply not accessible to first responders. In order to reach some of the difficult terrain that hikers, hunters and travelers find themselves stranded in, SAR teams require reliable and capable vehicles equipped for any kind of on- and off-road situation to get them to trail heads and access areas. These are everyday trucks and 4x4s, but with special considerations for rescue operations.

BrightSource has so far donated 80 sets of their LED lighting products to SAR teams across B.C. Some of the first teams to be provided with new lighting have praised the usefulness of having task-specific units. When mounted properly, wide-beam ditch lights can see in to the brush at the side of a road, useful for spotting evidence of downed ORV riders who’ve gone off a trail. High-power light bars provide a clear view of the road ahead, and can light up a rescue area. Other vehicle modifications like rugged, durable tires and custom equipment enclosures are a must-have for everyday operations, allowing essential rescue gear to be securely transported to search sites. However, most of this equipment comes at great cost – truck bodies for SAR use can easily cost $100,000 or more, and that’s before the addition of accessories and rescue equipment.

Although all of the SAR groups in British Columbia receive some measure of government support, there are many luxuries that just can’t be accounted for in budgets. Throughout the years, many local companies – such as Arc’teryx – have provided high-end equipment to help enhance the abilities of SAR teams. Ian noticed these relationships and approached the provincial coordinating body – B.C. Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) – to help distribute BrightSource lights to agencies across the province.

BCSARA’s mission is to raise awareness of every Search and Rescue group in B.C., lobby for funding from government, help integrate the operations of all 80 teams with local, provincial and first-responder agencies, and educate the public on backcountry safety. “We often hear about the North Shore crew, because of the frequency of calls and proximity to the Metro Vancouver area, but the other 79 groups answer the call with great regularity as well” says Ian. BCSARA ensures that the public is aware of what every SAR volunteer contributes, too. “In the past few years, the BCSARA media team has worked very hard to raise the profile of the 80 groups, their 2,500 volunteers and ground SAR program in B.C.,” says public information officer Chris Mushumanski. “In that time we have seen tremendous growth in our online presence and the public very much appreciates the work the volunteers do responding to 1,600+ tasks each year around the province.”

However, Ian isn’t satisfied with just his own contribution of products to SAR groups across B.C: “Our call out is to other suppliers in the automotive aftermarket and to the public in general, asking them to consider supporting these ‘everyday heroes’ in any way possible. The 80 groups across BC have a wide range of needs and demands they face when responding to a SAR task, so there is no one item that comes to mind.” When asked, SAR team members said that there’s a great demand not only for new equipment, but also for new members. Since most volunteers are active police, fire and medical professionals, they tend to move around the province in search of job opportunities, which can sometimes leave busy SAR teams with limited crews.

If there is one important lesson to be learned, it’s certainly covered in Adventure Smart, a national education and outreach program sponsored by SAR organizations across the country. The importance of being prepared in the backcountry, regardless of the type of activity, is essential. Having a plan and basic survival gear will greatly increase the chances you are found by a SAR team if you get lost or stranded and need help. “No one plans to get lost,” says Ian, “but the Search and Rescue groups across Canada plan well to provide effective and life-saving help when called upon.”

If a company would like to support BCSARA they can contact Chris Armstrong at and he will work with them to allocate the support they would like to provide. Individuals can make contributions by contacting their local SAR group or by donating to BCSARA. Information is available at and’s guide to Trip Planning:

– Plan your route; Leave a trip plan with someone

– Know and stay within your limits

– Take the essentials (Flashlight, fire making kit, extra provisions, first aid, etc)

– Travel with a companion

– Ensure everyone with you understands what to do in an emergency

– Be aware of cellular and satellite coverage in the area

– Avoid wildlife conflicts

– In an emergency… Don’t Panic, Stop, Stay Put, Seek Shelter, Signal for Help

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus