Coxwain Jason van der Valk

New search and rescue centre to open in East Sooke

Facility will train emergency response volunteers from around the region.

After years of planning and building, the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue training centre will soon have its own place to call home – in East Sooke.

The new facility, slated to open around mid-April, will serve as the regional training centre for the volunteer organization, which has a pool of around 1,200 members.

It will be the first time RCM-SAR will have its own dedicated training facility.

Over the last several years it has shared space with the Canadian Coast Guard in Victoria.

The new building will also house the latest fast rescue craft simulator, which will put trainees right in the seat of a typical SAR ship and some sort of simulated emergency.

“It will definitely be a very valuable resource for our members across B.C.,” said Jason van der Valk, coxwain and leader of the RCM-SAR Sooke Station No. 37.

Van der Valk Valk pointed out they needed a location that was fairly central and within reasonable reach of the airport and ferries. As part of RCM-SAR’s marine initiative, waterfront was important to the training program.

“The [Sooke] basin is quite sheltered, so that allows different types of training, and once you move around Whiffen Spit and get to the open strait, things can change,” he said.

“Fog, large waves and rough seas make for the perfect training ground in a closed harbour.”

Part of the property has already been in use by RCM-SAR for the last few years, following its purchase from the Sisters of St. Anne. Now operations, finances and training will be centered in one hub for the region.

Once open, five-day courses will run every two weeks, allowing six crew members to go through the simulator at a time.

The building was designed to accommodate a second simulator, allowing training to be done every week, but that’s still yet to be determined. There’s also a ready room complete with a shower and features special drying racks that can dry wetsuits in mere minutes.

Van der Valk hopes the training centre will at one point be able to offer first-aid courses to the public too.

The new facility is not to be confused with Station 37’s current location at the Prestige Hotel docks, and it will remain only as a training centre. The facility is also not related to the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation being planned for Sooke.

As part of the Search and Rescue system in Canada, the organization’s closest partners are the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Airforce and Navy, making that relationship vital if there is a search effort or emergency.

“When a mission is large enough that warrants having all those resources together, then it happens,” van der Valk said, referring to last summer’s massive search effort for the missing divers off of Race Rocks.

It’s also why training together is so important, noted Sub-Lt. Greg Menzies, Canadian Forces spokesperson at CFB Esquimalt.

“We take any opportunity we can to train with our local SAR partners, get the information out,” Menzies said, adding that RCMSAR is a big asset to the search and rescue system and the Victoria-based Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.

For marine support, the navy won’t usually dispatch ships unless they are already near the search area, though deployment of CH-149 Cormorant helicopters is common during co-op search efforts.

This also includes familiarizing search and rescue organizations with the aircraft itself and what it can do, Menzies said, adding that bridging that level of knowledge goes a long way during a joint search effort.

editor@sookenewsmirror.com