Search and rescue volunteer leaders report mistreatment by BC

Rescue leaders say there is “institutionalized bullying” of volunteers and lack of consultation

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Dwight Yochim says he’s had some difficult relationships with the funders of nonprofits he’s been involved with over the past 30 years, but last year was particularly tough for him and the staff at the US Search and Rescue Association. BC.

Yochim, who was removed as the association’s executive director last week, says the group’s volunteer staff have been intimidated, threatened and disrespected by the province’s Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Preparedness.

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Yochim and several other current and former search and rescue leaders say the province has been ignoring “pressing safety issues” while leaving them in the dark about important policy decisions.

“It really comes down to the relationship between BCSARA and the (ministry) staff really not respecting at all the dedication and experience that search and rescue volunteers have,” Yochim said in an interview.

“So that relationship with the province and (ministry) staff has really degraded over the last year to the point of being dysfunctional,” he said.

In a joint letter to Prime Minister David Eby, rescue leaders say there is “institutionalized bullying” of volunteers and a lack of consultation, including on new equipment that could improve safety and save lives.

The letter says the ministry changed the framework of the government’s relationship with the volunteer search and rescue teams, 78 in total, so it is no longer a “partnership.”

Yochim said the situation between the association and the ministry has become “toxic,” in part because of the government’s opposition to his group’s advocacy work on behalf of search and rescue volunteers.

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He said things “changed dramatically” as the group entered the second year of a funding agreement with the newly formed emergency management branch, and said there have been threats to withdraw funding from the association.

Yochim said oversight by ministry staff increased to an “extreme level,” where the association was expected to produce a series of reports that took up weeks of staff time.

“It seemed like there was no end to the demand, and if we did anything about the promotion, the response was an extreme reaction,” he said. “It’s not the kind of relationship you should have with volunteers. You must be open to new ideas. You should listen to the experts in the field.”

Yochim had been in the association for four and a half years. He said he was “released last Wednesday without reason.”

He said he tried to help association board members deal with ministry staff, who “belittled” a board member after hours of phone calls.

But they fired him because, as he understands it, “it was easier to free myself than to take on that bureaucracy.”

The new president of the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association, Chris Mushumanski, said in an emailed statement that Yochim did not represent the organization when the letter was sent.

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Mushumanski said he has been working with the ministry “over the past year and beyond for hundreds of hours resolving some challenging issues.”

“There is certainly a difference of opinion from time to time, however, we have a resilient working relationship,” the statement said.

Eby said in an unrelated news conference that search and rescue volunteers need support, especially during the winter months, and that his government is trying to address the teams’ concerns.

George Heyman, acting minister of emergency management and climate preparedness, said in a written statement that search and rescue volunteers are critical to “providing life-saving services across our province.”

“The concerns raised in this letter are very concerning and I intend to meet with the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association this month to discuss and address these concerns,” Heyman’s statement read.

“I am confident that together we can restore the trust and effective collaborative relationships that British Columbians need and expect.”


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