For the last 17 years, Tofino local Tim Webb has been finding people that get lost.
He has a diverse collection of stories that include: absent minded mushroom pickers, tourists gone astray, and aiding the Leviathan II rescues.
Webb is the President and Search Manager of the Westcoast Inland Search and Rescue (WISAR) Society.
He leads a close-knit crew of 15 active members that all have extensive ground search and rescue training that involves rope rescue, swift water capabilities, and tracking.
WISAR jurisdiction covers the Clayoquot Sound Region and when someone goes missing in the bush, they provide mutual aid to RCMP and National Parks at the drop of a hat.
“Typically, if it’s a complicated or difficult search or rescue, the most experienced person would take over. If it’s a more routine one or maybe one where we are in contact with the subject, we would have one of the less experienced Search and Rescue members run it. And they’re being coached and managed at the same time,” Webb told the Westerly News.
“A lot of that initial searching is just crashing through the bush,” he said.
“We do try and locate people first so if we have cell phone contact with them we can make loud noises, we can set off sirens, we can send up flares that sort of thing and then ask them if they can see them. If they can see where we are, that can help us to where they are.”
Webb reinforces that classic line we’ve all heard time and time again when it comes to venturing into the woods:
“Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you’re overdue,” he said.
“That at least helps. That has halved our search time.”
He also encourages hikers to pack the basic gear needed to at least make it through one night.
“Maybe it’s only a quick hike, but it’s worth thinking about if I did have to spend the night out, at least take a jacket and some water. Just the basics. If you twisted your ankle and slipped and fell just have enough so you can get by.”
He noted chucking a flashlight into a daypack along with a cellphone is always a wise decision.
“People all use their phones as flashlights and it flattens the battery really quickly,” Webb said.
“By the time you’re ready to call for help you don’t have much left.”
He added that investing in a cheap whistle could pay dividends too.
“Voices often don’t carry very far,” he said. “You can be just 100-metres away from somebody and if you’re down by the shore where there is wave noise or a lot of bush in the way we won’t be able to hear you.”
WISAR is in the midst of training about 20 new recruits. Once their 80-hours of training is complete, they’ll be on the roster and ready to help with rescues as needed.
Unfortunately, due to the transient nature of the area, Webb foresees that he’ll probably lose about a third of his new trainees in the first year or two.
“There are a lot of outdoor oriented people here in Tofino and Ucluelet, but the downside is people come and go,” he said.
“They come out here with the best of intentions, wanting to move here permanently and then their job changes or their life changes some other way.”
Webb estimates the sweet spot for active members would be a team of 30. And he said, while the commitment isn’t quite as intense the Fire Department, commitment itself is still the single biggest thing they need from people.
“Ideally, we need people with skills in the bush, but the biggest thing is that people will show up,” he said. “They’ll show up for trainings and they’ll continue to do so for hopefully years.”