Wednesday, May 08, 2013

In Conversation With...Jim Kaluza

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

If you get lost in  Cumberland County north of the Trans Canada Highway, chances are Jim Kaluza will be coordinating the search for you. 
The 55-year-old mechanic has been a member of Pugwash Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) for 35 years, a milestone that will be marked by the provincial government sometime this year. Jim is now a search manager and he’s one of several GSAR members who oversee a search from the unit’s mobile command post. 
“I enjoy it,” he says. “I love knowing that I’m helping people. I get a good feeling by going out.  You know someone’s lost and they’re hoping someone is looking for them, and you’re there and you do what you can.”
Pugwash GSAR hasn’t done as many searches in the last few years “because there just aren’t as many woods to get lost in anymore,” Jim says. “You still have your lost hunters in the woods, lost fishermen, lost skiers. We go after cross-country skiers who go on these long trails; they get lost, too. We look for everybody.”
While the unit doesn’t perform water searches, it does scour the shoreline and Jim says the unit has done hundreds of those. No matter which result a search has, it’s finalized. 
“It’s a successful search when you find who you’re looking for, one way or the other,” he says. “Preferably the person is alive and well, but if not, it’s closure for the family. They’re not wondering where the person went.”
Jim got into GSAR at the age of twenty because he was in CB radios. 
“A bunch of us joined REACT [Radio Emergency Associated Commmunication Teams],” Jim explains. “Then we came onto Cumberland Emergency Radio Communicators so we could work with EMO. Then we started search and rescue [based in Pugwash]. Search and rescue existed in the province so we started our own club.”
The club is responsible for a vast area. The boundaries of the group range from the New Brunswick border to the Colchester line north of the Trans Canada Highway. (Springhill GSAR covers the south side of the TCH.)
Being a member of a GSAR unit isn’t simply a matter of pulling on a pair of hiking boots and all-weather coat and meeting up at the place someone was last seen. 
“Every search we do, we write it up and send it in to search coordinators. Right now, we have formulas we work with and computer programs.”
Besides the use of computers and GPS, Jim says the biggest change in training from when he first began is training. Now it’s law. 
“Back when I started, you just needed to know how to read a map and compass and you went for a walk in the woods. Now, when you join, you have a criminal record check. If you pass that, you take the Probationary Searcher course. After that, you take Basic Searcher then Searcher and really that’s as far as you have to go. If you want to be a team captain, you have to take another course.”
One thing searchers no longer need is First Aid certification because paramedics are close by. 
“When I first started, we had to go to a First Responders course; I’ve even taken emergency childbirth courses. We used to take Standard First Aid; to pass that, you needed to know 75 percent of the names of the bones of the body. You were right up there with paramedics.”
Jim points out that most work places now require First Aid training so odds are good that someone on the team is going to know how to help. He has never done a search with EHS right there. 
“You make the person comfortable then you go get EHS. They try to find the closest way they can drive to it; we end up carrying them out of the woods to EHS.”
To illustrate how he gets a search underway, Jim provides a missing hunter scenario. 
“It’s usually ten or eleven or twelve o’clock at night. He hasn’t arrived back yet and the person who called has eliminated the possibility that he’s at a camp having a beer with his buddies. They call the RCMP who goes to talk to the person first; sometimes they call to put us on standby. That way we can get everything geared up. As search manager, I get the call to activate my search team. I call our communications officer then I call my three team captains. Each team captain calls their team. We have a very fundamental system. I call and say ‘We have a search. Can you go or not?’ If you say no, that’s the end of it. If I call and you say yes, I give the details. Sometimes I’ll say right away we have a lost hunter or a lost child. If I say we have a lost child, I never get no.”
Jim interviews the family using 20 questions asked for every search. These questions pertain to health, fitness, medical history, clothing, job, as well as what kind of mood the person was in, which is why the first question asked is if the person is suicidal.
It takes two to three hours to get the search started but Jim says there is no other way, adding  that it is the RCMP who decides when to send the teams in. 
After 35 years with Pugwash GSAR, Jim has see a lot of changes, including the use of computers for everything from creating a profile of the missing person to tracking search teams and using GPS.
“It’s slick,” he admits even though he’s still most comfortable using a map.
Regardless, his enthusiasm and motivation remain strong. To him, this is an essential service provided by dedicated volunteers. 
“Support search and rescue: Go get lost,” he laughs. 

Jim in PGSAR's new mobile command centre. 

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