Walter Bucher has spent the better part of his life giving back to the community that has been so good to him.
Born and raised in Smithers, Bucher still lives on the same piece of property he grew up on.
He is a volunteer with the Smithers Fire Department and a member of the Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue Association, mostly involved in swift-water rescues and also the deputy emergency coordinator for the Town of Smithers.
“I feel like I’m part of something that’s way bigger than me, living in a community like Smithers,” Bucher said.
“It’s part of my citizenship, to contribute to it and this is the way that I can do it.”
After working as a railroad engineer for many years, Bucher moved back to Smithers and became involved in whitewater kayaking.
At that time, there was a push for training procedures and standards to be developed for swift water rescue and Bucher became one of the first certified instructors in the world.
In 1987, Bucher started Raven Rescue, a Smithers-based business that develops and delivers rescue training worldwide.
Bucher is able to offer a different perspective on search and rescue activities, due in large part to his own personal tragedy.
About 20 years ago, his son, Ryan, was killed in a car accident.
“I’m one of those people that belong to a small club you never want to belong to,” Bucher said.
It took two days for his son’s vehicle, swallowed up by dense bush on a forest service road, to be found.
An encounter he had with an RCMP officer during this time changed the path of his life forever and helped to form his approach to search and rescue.
“He held my hand throughout the process and he did it with professionalism and he did it with compassion and he did it with integrity,” Bucher said.
“He did it, not as a rescue hero, but as somebody who wanted to help me through a time in my life that was very difficult.
“I have never forgotten his face and how awesome he was.”
This is how Bucher now deals with the grieving families he comes in contact with.
And his unique approach has not gone unnoticed.
Last fall, he was honoured with Emergency Management BC’s Public Safety Lifeline Award for Search and Rescue Volunteers and this winter he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for public service.
“These things, to my way of thinking, are a bit unfair,” Bucher said.
“So many people do so much.
“I get the glory jobs, I get to do the rescues.”
Bucher was nominated for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal by Provincial Emergency Program co-ordinator Maury Hurst.
“To be recognized by my peers is really nice,” Bucher said.
“I’ve put in a lot of years as a volunteer and it’s great to be recognized for my approach.”
Bucher’s search and rescue method has left an indelible mark on the families of many people in the Bulkley Valley who have been faced with unspeakable tragedies.
In 2006, Debbie Pierre lost her son Ernie John when the vehicle he was driving plunged into the Bulkley River at the Moricetown Canyon.
Bucher was involved in the search for Ernie through his role with the Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue Association and became well acquainted with the family.
“Walter was very empathetic and could relate to our situation,” Pierre said.
“He was a great support and really ensured that we were taken care of.”
Ernie’s body was never recovered but over the years, pieces of the vehicle have washed ashore.
They decided not to continue searching for Ernie after Bucher, who has stayed in touch with the family, took them down to the Bulkley River to show them what a beautiful grave it was for their son.
“He brought us down to the river to show us how peaceful it was and that it was a good resting place,” Pierre said.
“It gave us peace as well.”
“From this situation, we’ve gained an amazing friend.
“We need more Walter Buchers in this world.”