Tower Hill – Too often first responders’ dedication and commitment to the safety of their communities and the province goes greatly unnoticed. Ground Search and Rescue Units are no exception.
A niche branch of emergency responders, these highly trained units are often responsible for the rescue of missing persons throughout the province yet often go unrecognized. However, these unsung heroes and heroines are finally gaining the national recognition they deserve, and that recognition is making its way to Charlotte County.
In a ceremony held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, ON, one of the NB Provincal Director of Search and Rescue, and sitting member of the Charlotte Country Ground Search and Rescue (CCGSAR) Unit Executive, Rhonda Hulan, was presented with a 2017 Emergency Management Exemplary Service Award. The award recognized her dedication to exceptional service, achievement and excellence in the field of Search and Rescue (SAR).
“I was humbled and honoured to receive the award,” said Hulan. “But I got the award because of my amazing team. Everyone owns a piece of this award.”
Hulan and 34 other local volunteers make up the CCGSAR unit, which is responsible for not only Charlotte County, but are often called to be part of SAR missions around southern New Brunswick. Along with those 34 volunteers is one crucial member of the squad who rolls with Hulan no matter where she goes: her SAR K9, Fire.
“He rolls with me no matter what,” said Hulan. “But if the area we’ve been called into is Urban like a city then we don’t deploy him.”
Fire is a three year old Belgian Malinois who, along with Rhonda, makes up the only civilian K9 SAR unit in New Brunswick. Fire is trained in tracking, air scent differentiation, and evidence – making him a valuable asset when tracking a subject in a rural area like a marsh or forest. Under Hulan’s instruction, and in prime cool and slightly windy weather conditions, Fire is able to cover up to 40 acres in two hours. That’s a search radius equivalent to 30 to 40 human searchers.
“He’s such a massive part of the team. Everyone is always so happy to see him,” said Hulan, adding Fire’s safety and well-being is of the upmost importance to her at all times.
Fire and Hulan’s partnership has blossomed over the three years of training and on the job experience. Their training regiment is one that, although strenuous, has been crucial to the pair’s success for their 80 per cent professional retrieval rate.
“When we train, we train for usually around eight hours down in Maine with their K9 unit,” said Hulan.
“We train articles (of clothing), then tracking, then air scent. We try to get through as much as possible but there are definitely challenges.
Hulan discussed the challenges she and Fire face during training, and said although they have a high success rate, it comes with a lot of work and dedication.
“We have our days,” she said. “He’s a dog, and if he’s having a bad day there’s only so much we can do, and if I’m having a bad day it goes down the leash to him.”
The bond between Hulan and Fire is unmistakable, and something Hulan says is in large part due to the work they put in, and the team they are surrounded with.
CCGSAR recently developed a working relationship with Musquash Fire Department, which is a partnership Hulan and the rest of CCGSAR is incredibly proud of and one that they are excited to build on.
“Because of the fact that they have so many different resources it’s really amazing for us to be able to work with them, and use those resources to better protect the people of (NB),” said Hulan.
CCGSAR also has a working relationship with RCMP throughout the province and have been a huge asset to multiple searches over the past few months.
“Last year in total we had 10 call-ins to conduct search and rescue operations,” Hulan explained. “This year since May alone, we’ve already had seven.”
With the summer months in full swing and people spending more time outside, CCGSAR has been busy, and that comes at a significant cost. CCGSAR operates as a charity and funds much of their equipment through fundraising and thus rely on the community they serve so diligently to help them with their funding.
Hulan expressed her admiration for the communities and for the CCGSAR volunteers, saying that they are a crucial part of every rescue.
“To be honoured with the award means a lot, but it wouldn’t be possible without the community, the volunteers, Fire, and the rest of our amazing team,” said Hulan.
To donate to CCGSAR or become a volunteer, you can find CCGSAR on Facebook at Charlotte County Ground Search & Rescue.