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Paradise Search and Rescue exercise draws praise from police, Justice Minister

Some of the 60 ground Search and Rescue volunteers who converged on Paradise Park this past Sunday to hold exercises and talk with the public about their activities during the start of Emergency Preparedness Week.

Craig Westcott \ May 12, 2023

Paradise Park had the look of a disaster response centre Sunday as Search and Rescue members from around the Avalon set up a supply tent, a medical station, comfort zone, administrative tent, staging area and their emergency response command post vehicle.

But it was an exercise this time, and a chance to give the public a peek into what ground SAR members do as the country marks Emergency Preparedness Week.

“The equipment is very versatile, it can be anywhere at any point,” said one of the chief organizers, Paul French. 

He noted the news of the past week – which included flooding in Quebec and wildfires in Alberta – reinforces the importance of highlighting Emergency Preparedness Week. The theme this year is ‘Be prepared: Know your risks.’

“These types of events are increasing in severity, number and duration,” French said. “And we need to do our part to be prepared in order to respond. And as a volunteer community I think we very much are ready to do that. There’s more we can do, and we’ll get there. But this is a great first exercise and I thank everyone for coming out.”

French thanked the Town of Paradise for its support and helping to organize the event. 

The special guest speaker for the exercises was Justice and Public Safety Minister John Hogan, who thanked the volunteers for their efforts.

“I tell the story all the time about when Premier (Andrew) Furey called me after the election and said, ‘Do you want to come into cabinet and be Minister of Justice?’ That’s all I heard. I didn’t hear the ‘Public Safety’ part of it, because I practice as a lawyer and so it made sense for me to go into that portfolio. I don’t think it was a week into the job when I realized not only how important the public safety aspect of the portfolio was, but how big it was, the scope of it.”

Hogan said the public takes a sense of security from knowing the Search and Rescue volunteers are out there.

“Just think about the emergencies we’ve faced over the last few years in terms of climate change,” Hogan added. “We’ve had forest fires in Central Newfoundland, we had rainstorms on the southwest coast, we had Hurricane Fiona which almost wiped out part of Port aux Basques. Hogan said the government has “beefed up” the support and resources being put into SAR groups throughout the province.

“So, I just want to take the time today to say thank you so much,” Hogan said. “It makes me sleep easier at night knowing that there are groups like you, volunteers like you, and other fire and emergency services – the RNC, RCMP – throughout our province who are so dedicated.”

Paradise Deputy Mayor Kimberley Street said the Town was pleased to be a partner with the SAR association. “Looking across the park this afternoon, we are getting a firsthand look at the resources the association has available and while we hope it’s never needed, it’s reassuring to know that a skilled and capable team of first responders are ready,” she said. “Severe weather events, pandemics and other emergencies may be beyond our control, but there are things we can do to reduce the risk and impact of whatever emergency we might face.”

Emergency Preparedness Week is a great time to make sure you have a home emergency kit and plan for your family, Street added.

“While many don’t think about emergencies, or severe situations and events, it’s important that we all take the time to be prepared, reduce the risk and be ready to face these situations,” Street said, noting the Town too has developed emergency plans and conducted training. “We’re ready to respond should the need arise.”

Sgt. Danny Williams, who is the RCMP’s commander of Search and Rescue activities in the province, thanked the volunteers who took the time “to further the cause of search and rescue” by participating in the day’s exercises.

“That’s commendable,” said Williams. “I’m so proud of Search and Rescue and getting to work with you guys every day.”

Williams said there were a couple of major incidents in particular the past year in which the volunteers helped the RCMP.

“It’s commendable how many people you guys sent out there and how many hours you spent and how much you care about that stuff,” said Williams. “I think a lot of times that might be lost on the public, or maybe not thought about… There are 60 people here today. You could have been doing anything else. You probably spend half your weekends out looking for missing people. But you came here today because you believe in this and it’s a cause that you feel strongly about. I just want to say, I’m proud of you guys, I’ve seen your work firsthand, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the humanitarian workforce grow, and for the province to see the value in it, and for you guys to go out there and do what you love. Love is a strong word, but it’s what you guys love. And that’s to find missing people and to fill any role, whatever it is, and to volunteer and to help out and to be a backbone of this province.”

Inspector Mitch Rumboldt of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary felt likewise.

“I can’t thank you enough for your dedication to come here today and put off this exercise,” he said. “It is the beginning of Emergency Preparedness Week and what better way to kick it off than with some planning and preparedness exercises. Planning and preparedness leads to response becoming almost a muscle memory, it’s so quick… And we know, as the RNC and RCMP, that you folks are second to none when it comes to responding to incidents when we ask for your assistance, because somebody in the public needs assistance. And you’ve done that so well for so long. For the RNC in particular, we’re very proud of the relationships we have with the teams in our regions… We know the capacity that you folks bring to bear at times when it’s needed is absolutely incredible. So, continue to support each other and be proud of each other in the work that you do, and know that as much as we can we can, we’re going to support and foster our relationship along the way… My wish for you all is that you get some downtime this week to relax and that there are no emergencies. But to know that capacity exists with this humanitarian workforce to augment first response capabilities across the country is absolutely outstanding.”

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