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‘It’s everything they were asking for’: Vernon Search and Rescue’s new home

Building on Silver Star Road is 12,000 square feet, more than double the size of their old building

Members of Vernon Search and Rescue (VSAR) can finally stretch out in a spacious new building on Silver Star Road.

VSAR members held a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday, May 17, outside of their new headquarters — a brand-new 12,000 square-foot building, which is more than double the size of its old building on Aberdeen Road.

The added space is the building’s most important feature; VSAR has grown significantly since it was founded in 1960, and was struggling to cram all their equipment in their old space.

The building features two training rooms — including one the public will have access to — as well as pull-through bays that are 80 feet long (the old bays were 40 feet long).

“That makes it so much better for us to be able to grab our equipment and just roll out of both doors if we have to and take off, so it makes it really quick and easy for us to go,” said search manager Mark Forsyth.

The project was years in the making, and first impressions of the building were overwhelmingly positive.

“From where we came from to where we are today, this building doesn’t compare — it’s just amazing, the community support that has built this building,” said Daniel Hoekstra, VSAR president.

The added space will allow VSAR to grow over the next 60 years or until the building reaches the end of its life span, and already the team is looking to add to its equipment fleet with the purchase of a new truck with a specialized box.

There are also plans to add a climbing wall in the building for the rope team to use for training.

Crucially, the added space will help cut down response times, as in the old building, equipment was crammed in so tightly that it took some manoeuvring to get access to the necessary equipment for a particular task.

“Now we have everything spread out, everything is accessible, so that will help with our response times,” Hoekstra said. “That’s just part of rescuing a subject, and minutes count.”

Hoekstra said it was great working with the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) on the project over the years, adding that instead of a regular vote, the project went to an alternative approval process in which board members had a chance to voice objections.

None of them had any objections, which allowed the project to move forward swiftly.

“That was just amazing. I don’t think the RDNO has ever had that before, zero objections,” Hoekstra said.

RDNO chair Kevin Acton was at the ribbon cutting and was pleased to see the work of several years culminate into a shiny new headquarters.

“I think it’s everything that they were asking for,” Acton said. “They needed height, they needed classrooms, they needed space for training, they were bursting at the seams at the other building … so I’m really happy, and the contractor did an amazing job. They had a tight budget and they managed to get everything done within what we were asking for.”

The building came in around budget, costing about $3.6 million, which Acton said was great value for what the VSAR team received.

“I’m extremely happy with the value for the dollar, you always have to consider what the taxpayers are putting money up for, and this has been a solid investment.”

Acton said the location on Silver Star Road is suitable, as it’s central to VSAR’s area and close to Silver Star Mountain, where a lot of tasks are located in the winter. It’s also close to where a lot of the volunteer members live.

“They don’t have to travel an hour and a half to get to some obscure location for a search and rescue building,” he said.

“Their calls are increasing every year, they’re getting busier, so having some room to grow for the future too is important. We made sure that when we built it we didn’t build it for today, we built it to look forward into the future as the community grows.”

VSAR is a free service made up of about 70 volunteers. Whether it’s a lost hiker, a stuck snowmobiler or trouble on the water, VSAR is equipped to help anyone in the area in the event of an emergency.

“It makes me be able to sleep at night knowing that people in our community have these guys to back them up if something goes wrong,” Acton said.

READ MORE: New Vernon Search and Rescue home taking shape

READ MORE: Vernon search and rescue save snowmobiler

Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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