When and why did you join RCMSAR?

I joined RCMSAR Station Squamish in the summer of 2015. I joined during a gap year between high school and university. Throughout high school I was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, getting my first exposure to first aid, survival and leadership training as I worked through the ranks. Becoming increasingly interested in a career in pre-hospital care, I continued my training, completing my Occupational First Aid Level 3, Wilderness First Responder tickets and my Emergency Medical Responder licence. After graduating high school without much of a plan, I decided to go to Thailand to complete an internship, getting my PADI Master Scuba Diver rating with specialties in rescue diving, search and recovery and underwater navigation. After coming home, I began working in residential construction and was looking for something productive to do in my free time. Taking my passion for first aid and my love of the ocean together, I began investigating RCMSAR. My former cadet commanding officer was also a member, so he put me in touch with the recruitment officer in Station Squamish–and the rest is history.

 

What roles do you hold in your station and/or society?

Currently I am an active member with Station North Vancouver and president of the Howe Sound Marine Rescue Society, supporting Station Squamish. After moving to Vancouver for university, I transferred stations to maintain operational standby while studying. As for my society responsibilities, the preceding president stepped down shortly after I joined RCMSAR as a new crewmember. With nobody in our small station able to fill the position, I wanted to help out and learn more about the administration of the station. This may have been ill-advised as I was leaving to begin my first year at Simon Fraser University three weeks later, but with help from the rest of the board of directors, I was quickly read in on the society functions and did my best to hit the ground running.

 

How did this exchange come about?

That’s a bit of a long story. I’m currently working towards a degree in international studies specializing in security and conflict analysis. After learning more and more about the state of environmental degradation and the impacts it would have on the Canadian Arctic, I became increasingly interested in Arctic security and sovereignty issues. As Canada holds the second-largest claim in the Arctic after Russia, we as a country have plenty of reasons to look north. With an increase in traffic and access due to climate change and interest in renewable (fish) and non-renewable resources (oil, gas and minerals), competition among Arctic and non-Arctic states is increasing the odds for conflict in this newly-regulated arena. Political, economic, social and cultural interests all seem to coincide directly on our northern frontier. Looking to the future, I began exploring options for after graduation. I found a Master’s program at the University of the Arctic in the city of Tromso, Norway, specializing in Arctic Maritime Law.

These ideas hung around for a while as a bit of an unlikely objective. The wheels started turning after I found out at the SAREx that RCMSAR will be hosting the World Maritime Rescue Congress and the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) will be having their AGM in Vancouver in 2019. Not knowing what the IMRF was or who was involved, I did a bit of background research. Once I saw the Norwegians were members of the IMRF as well, it kind of clicked. I sent the IMRF an email, and said I was interested in finding a university co-op or something to get some exposure to Norway and a taste of SAR operations in the far north. They in turn put me in touch with the Redningsselskapet (Norwegian Sea Rescue Society). I asked them if they had any positions in Tromso and unfortunately they said they were full at that station but they could offer me a specialized training program as a pilot project. Specifically, this would include a crash course in Arctic operations, as well as their standard operating procedures and general protocols for marine SAR in the south as well. As this is the first time they have taken a member from a foreign organization for an extended period of time, much of it will be route-finding, but I am confident it will be worthwhile.

 

Can you provide a brief itinerary of your trip?

This part is a bit up in the air at the moment due to some scheduling changes, but the rough framework I have been working with thus far is to arrive in Oslo and get some exposure to the organization at their headquarters there. Following these first few days, I will be flying up to the north, arriving in Narvik and travelling to their stations in Svolvær, Balstad and Myre to see the challenges that come with operating in an Arctic environment. My primary focus will be to expand my understanding of the major issues involved in operating in such austere environments, as well as the policy questions that come from a warming Arctic environment.

I’ll then be serving in their southern stations Skjærhalden, Arendal, Oscarsborg and Oslo. At some point in between, I’ll be undergoing training at their newly-built training facility in the town of Horten. I have yet to find out what they have in store for me in the south, but I have no doubt that comparing our protocols and practices to theirs will significantly enhance the skills I have already gained through RCMSAR curriculum.

I feel that with the skills and experience I have gained through our noble domestic pursuits, I must act where I can to impact some incremental difference as best I can abroad.

Following my trip to Norway, independent of any RCMSAR involvement or endorsements, I will be travelling of my own accord to the Greek island of Lesvos. Here I will be working with a non-profit non-governmental organization called Refugee Rescue. This group has been operating in the Mediterranean since 2015, searching for any vessels in distress along the increasingly high traffic corridor. With the unprecedented influx of human migration stemming from armed conflict and environmental degradation across the Sahel, North Africa and of course the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, vulnerable people have been dying in abhorrent and unacceptable numbers. Unscrupulous actors such as human traffickers have been exploiting this demand illegally and immorally by overloading vessels, selling fake PFDs and navigating without due care or regard for the souls onboard. The dangers these travellers face would be unconscionable in Canada and for all members of our organization as a sea rescue organization. Thus, I feel that with the skills and experience I have gained through our noble domestic pursuits, I must act where I can to impact some incremental difference as best I can abroad.

 

What do you think you’ll gain from this trip? How do you think it might benefit your station?

I believe that this trip is going to increase my SAR IQ ten-fold. The simple experience of working in a new environment, much less on a different SAR platform and with different crews will be challenging but formative. With Norway and Greece taken together, my hope is that the experiences I will gain will make a positive impact on the crewmembers with which I will serve upon my return. By bringing new perspectives, my biggest hope is that these pursuits will make the crucial difference in the event of a distress call here at home.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the RCMSAR membership?

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank each and every member that has positively influenced my training and SAR career development. Without the help of the leadership at my home station of Station Squamish, the help of members such as Mike Sheehan (our former station leader), Nelson Dow (current station leader), Chris Scarborough, Scott Shaw-MacLaren, Dan Price and Paul Jones, I would not have received the base skills that have propelled me to even be eligible for these pursuits. Further, the vital members that have supported our Howe Sound Marine Rescue Society operations require mention. Cindy Neilson as treasurer, Sean Soper and all the others that help out with our day-to-day operations have been vital to our station/society development over my tenure. The dedication required to operate a small station such as ours is not always fully understood by those looking from a distance but the difference these members have made in the lives of those they have picked up and those that they have served with is immeasurable.

The support I have received down at Station North Vancouver has dramatically changed my perspectives on SAR operations and the difficulties that come with operating in one of Canada’s busiest ports. The level of training and positive support I have received from Randy Strandt, Kevin Cattell, Dan Wright, Carlos Sepulveda, Chris Schmit and other long-serving members such as Mike de Jong, Dean Rockwell and Tom Stackhouse have prepared me for all the worst-case scenarios we might encounter. Their attention to detail and dedication to the mission is astounding and inspiring.

The help I have received from the Headquarters staff is remarkable. CEO Pat Quealey’s continued and unwavering support for all my formerly pipe dreams has been deeply motivating and inspiring. Without the support of our top leadership and their endorsement to represent our organization abroad I would be at a steep disadvantage. The impact these experiences will have for both my personal and professional life will be broad and all-encompassing. The support of our dedicated operations and training staff members Francois Michaud and Jason van der Valk in curriculum development and safety improvements have set us all up for success in the best way possible. Without the support of all these members and more, the morale and esprit de corps I love and cherish in this organization would not be the same. The sacrifice and commitment of all our members is what inspires me. My highest goal is to return the favour.

As this trip is entirely self-funded, I have been working hard to save up the cash to make this happen. Unfortunately, university tuition has no indication of decreasing soon, and Vancouver is a less than affordable place to call home. With this in consideration, and after having exhausted all other avenues such as grant funding, I have (begrudgingly) started a GoFundMe page. If anybody reading this wishes to support this training experience or knows a friend/relative/significant other that might be interested in donating, I would be eternally grateful.


Click here for more information on the Redningsselskapet and their operations.

Click here for more information on Refugee Rescue and the operations they undertake.

Click here for more information on Raymond and his trip or to sponsor him.

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