The weather was wild but spirits were high at this year’s District Search and Rescue (SAR) camp or SAREX – the first in three years due to COVID.
The camp was held over three days at Alford Forest near Ashburton. The team, from all over Canterbury, based themselves at Alford Forest Hall, where they participated in information sessions, scenario-based training and an awards presentation.
This year however, one of the most memorable things about the camp was the weather.
“Only a few tents survived the night,” says Emergency Management Coordinator Sergeant Phil Simmonds. “The team were out in the early hours – in the pouring rain and buffeting wind – adjusting guy ropes and hammering in pegs.
“Some ended up sleeping in their vehicles and others slept marae-style in the hall.”
Weather aside, the District SAREX is an opportunity to bring everyone together from across the district – squad members, reservists and supporters – to learn from each other, brush up on skills and learn new ones.
“There’s so much experience in the group but everyone is keen to learn too,” Phil says.
“This year we turned the tables and got our reservists to run the scenarios, which worked really well. We’ve got a great team of reservists. In the latest group to come on board, half are women – it’s great to see more women joining our specialist teams.”
On day two of the camp, District Commander Superintendent John Price and Inspectors Craig McKay and Bryan Buck joined the team for an awards presentation.
Presentations were made to the incident controllers involved in the rescue of a tramper from Mungo Pass in February 2021 and of two climbers from Kaimatau/Mount Rolleston in October 2021. Both events were recently recognised at the annual New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards.
District SAR Assistant Coordinator Kirsty-Anne Holland, experiencing her first SAR camp, says what struck her the most were the opportunities around whanaungatanga/connection.
“There was a real willingness to build connections across the wider team and learn from each other," she says. "People happily switched from learner to instructor and to mentor.
“It was also great to see the district leads. The district commander and two inspectors came for the awards presentation and they could have left straight after, but they chose to stay. There was a great deal of whakaute/respect shown to the team and a great deal of support.”
Our Canterbury District SAR squads respond to over 300 search and rescue and more than 50 body recovery/identification events each year.
“They are responsible for bringing people home to their families or providing closure for families who have lost a loved one,” says Craig. “It’s a special job and they’re a special team who do it.”