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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Search and rescue open house shines a light on safety
Randy Klaassen said volunteering with Search and Rescue 'isn't for everyone,' given the tight quarters in planes and high degree of attention needed when on a search. JULIA SACCO

When it comes to being part of a search and rescue team, Randy Klaassen says it’s all about keeping your eyes peeled for the people you’re trying to help and staying focused — even as you’re flying in a compact airplane from 1964.

“It’s not for everybody. Partly the confined space, partly flying,” Klaassen said, as he showed off the plane and its individual barf bags stowed behind the plane’s seats.

Klaassen is an active volunteer and search coordinator with the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association of Niagara and was at the Niagara District Airport on Saturday for an open house all about sharing safety tips with the Niagara-on-the-Lake community.

The open house, which ran from 9 to 4 p.m., was hosted by the search and rescue association of Niagara along with South Shore Search and Rescue and featured tours and demonstrations throughout the open house.

Klaassen took The Lake Report through a short tour of some of the rescue vehicles and equipment that the group uses during a search. 

He explained the role of some volunteers who have to keep an eye out for those being rescued or located.

“Your nose is right up against the window and you’re looking sideways. Do that going down the QEW at 120, because that’s the speed we’re doing. Then tell me what’s down there in the ditch,” Klaassen said. 

Above anything, Klaassen urged safety during the open house, giving visitors tips on how to safely explore the outdoors. 

“Water safety has to be key,” he said, adding that of the ten callouts last year, five were marine calls. 

Wearing a lifejacket, preferably in a bright, visible colour, is important when boating or swimming. 

The risk and attention to detail that comes with being a search and rescue volunteer attracts a crowd of dedicated and generous people.

One of the newest recruits, Peter Jennings, signed up to volunteer only a few weeks ago after hearing Klaassen speak at the PROBUS club in St. Catharines.

“I have what I think (search and rescue) is looking for,” Jennings told The Lake Report. “I have been flying and sailing and therefore I feel like I owe it back to people to be on the other side and help when I’m not out there.”

For new volunteers like him, training begins in the winter to prepare volunteers for the summer season. 

Nancy Briggs, a new volunteer, will begin her first season with South Shore Search and Rescue this summer.

Already a fisher, training for water rescue came easily to her.

“It was familiar, with the boat and docking and leaving the dock,” she said.

Cathy Buis, a volunteer with the search and rescue association, has been helping out for around six years.

Buis got into volunteering as a way of using her skills to give back to the community,

“One of the (volunteers) is a friend of mine, we play tennis together. My background is in nursing and she said ‘I think this might be a good fit for you,’” Buis told The Lake Report. 

She said that applying her training and skills to the real world has been the most rewarding part of her years with the organization.

“All of your hard work and practice has now come to and at the end, you hope that you have a good outcome or at least closure for families,” she said.

Civil Air Search and Rescue Association and South Shore Search & Rescue are non-profit charities that rely on these dedicated volunteers and community donations to function.

“Both of us are nonprofits, (South Shore Search & Rescue) in particular don’t get any extra funding,” Klaassen said. 

The operation itself is expensive, using numerous GPS tools and consistently having to update aircraft technology. 

ADS-B, an aviation surveillance technology that will be added to the aircraft, gives pilots satellite weather tracking and navigation.

“It has saved lives already with searches, it’s a great technology but it is expensive,” Klaassen said. 


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