The Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary has hired its first zone coordinator to be based in Ahousaht. The CNCGA is a newly formed Indigenous Canadian Coast Guard auxiliary for the purpose of protecting mariners and the environment in order to enhance Canada’s search and rescue program through collaboration between First Nations and the Canadian Coast Guard.
CNCGA Executive Director Conrad Cowan says the society is so new that they are still working on logistics and hiring.
“The CNCGA became an actual society in July 2018 and we operate on a contribution agreement with the Canadian Coast Guard,” said Cowan. He went on to say that the CCG supplies the funding while his society ensures its members receive adequate training, supplies and equipment to take part in a search and rescue operation.
According to Cowan, the CNCGA had its genesis in the aftermath of the October 2015 Leviathan II accident where six lives were lost. The Leviathan II was a whale watching vessel based out of Tofino. It was struck by a wave and capsized near a reef. Survivors were able to fire a flare that was spotted by Ahousaht fishermen who came to their rescue. Had it not been for the fishermen, more lives would have been lost.
Seeing the value of having local mariners on the water to assist in search and rescue operations, the CCG began exploring ways to bring training and equipment to coastal Indigenous communities. Members of coastal First Nations were offered rescue training at a Bamfield station, which specializes in fast rescue craft operations.
In addition, three coast nations now have CNCGA zone coordinators who will be responsible for rallying SAR volunteers, as well as coordinating training and equipment. Three zone coordinators are in Kitkatla, Heiltsuk and Ahousaht.
Curtis Dick has an extensive emergency services resume that includes leading search and rescue operations in and around Clayoquot Sound as well as working with First Nations Emergency Services Society of BC (FNESS).
“I started in emergency services when I was 16, my dad recruited me right out of high school,” said Dick, who started with Ahousaht’s volunteer fire department.
Dick recently returned to his home in Ahousaht where he will begin his new career coordinating local operations and seeking out recruits for emergency services training. Located on Flores Island, Ahousaht is accessible only by boat or float plane. The community and surrounding villages are filled with mariners.
The goal of the CNCGA is to achieve effective marine search and rescue service for people in distress throughout coastline. Dick will work with the CGA executive director not only on coordinating an effective SAR response team locally, but also to assist in reaching out to other communities to support in their search and rescue team building.
The news comes just over a year after five young men lost their lives in three separate incidents in the waters of Clayoquot Sound; one a close family member of Dick. Living in Vancouver at the time, Dick traveled home to assist in the search.
Dick started in his position Aug. 1 and is meeting regularly with community emergency services volunteers, like first responders and firefighters. In addition, he is taking inventory of equipment and also of training needs. He will be recruiting volunteers for training and will help develop plans that will allow the various departments to work smoothly together.
While the new coordinators have not been provided boats, their communities have some vessels that have been certified by the CCG, meaning they have been inspected are fully equipped and meet SAR safety standards. Cowan says that the coordinators, in the event of a SAR operation, may not be on a boat but coordinating operations from a land base.
“Working community boats that are already on the water means a faster response because they are already out there and can participate in a search and rescue, as opposed to having a boat tied to the dock,” Cowan explained.
Ahousaht has two SAR certified boats. Cowan says a goal would be to get a boat designed specifically for SAR operations.
A specially designed trailer has been sent to Ahousaht filled with safety gear, equipment and radios.
The new coordinator positions are for two years.
Cowan says that CNCGA will work to identify gaps in service along the B.C. coast. The Canadian Coast Guard has heat maps that show remote areas where First Nations live and work.
“We’d like to go there and make relationships,” said Cowan, adding that one day, there could be more people with his position.
“We’re starting small and hope to fill those gaps,” he added.