On Wednesday, May 30, Smithers resident Walter Bucher was among a group of six volunteers recognized for outstanding contributions to public safety in British Columbia.
The volunteers received Public Safety Lifeline Volunteer awards from Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Shirley Bond, at the legislature in Victoria.
Bucher received his award for his volunteer contributions over 25 years with Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue and five years as a volunteer with the Smithers Fire Department.
“I’m just one of many people who are equally deserving,” Bucher said.
More than 13,000 PSL volunteers support disaster response in British Columbia.
In a press release, the Ministry of Justice and Emergency Management BC said, in any given year, search and rescue groups in B.C. respond to nearly 1,000 incidents involving more than 1,300 missing, lost or injured persons.
“It’s really wonderful to be recognized by your peers and I’ve strived to approach what I do with humility and compassion, especially the compassion aspect of it, and professionalism at every turn,” Bucher said.
“To be recognized for that gives me an opportunity to drive that message home to new people coming into the field.”
Bucher is also the head swiftwater instructor and executive director of Raven Rescue, a company he started that is now the official agent for Rescue 3 International, a world leader in technical rescue training for swiftwater, rope, helicopter and ice.
Bucher said about one-third of people who die in water rescue situations are the rescuers, so there’s a need for a high level of training.
“It’s grown into a fairly big operation now,” Bucher said. “We have offices in Ottawa, Edmonton and our home office is based here in Smithers.
“We have about 60 people who work with us in Canada and there’s no other company of our kind as big as ours in Canada or the United States.”
As if that isn’t enough, Bucher is also deputy emergency coordinator for the town of Smithers and admits he “wears a lot of hats.”
“I really want to be able to help people through a time in their lives where none of us really want to go,” Bucher said.
“But sometimes you have to and to be able to be there for those people and help them through a difficult time, no matter the outcome, is a big part of why I do it.”
Bucher lost a son in a car accident; something he says may also give him a different perspective on emergency services.
“To be able to see it from the other side has made me even better at my job as the people I dealt with were professional, compassionate and humble.
“It strengthened my resolve to be that way when I deal with people”
Search and rescue is a close-knit community and Bucher was happy to see a Terrace family at the award ceremony.
Joe Mandur Sr. was posthumously awarded a lifetime achievement award after recently losing a battle with cancer.
“I think he was very deserving of the award,” Bucher said.
“Joe was a fabulous guy and I’d worked with him over the years.
“His wife, Therza and son, Joe Jr., were there to receive the award on his behalf and it was great to see that, it was really nice.”
Bucher’s compassion extends beyond those he assists in rescue situations.
He encourages everyone involved in search and rescue to go through critical stress debriefings to help cope with what are often tragic outcomes.
“Over the years, these incidents can take their toll and leave you with sleepless nights and emotional behaviour problems,” he said.
Bucher credits those debriefings, the support of family, and lots of exercise as the combination of things that help give him the stability to continue in such a stressful field.
He hopes the contributions of time, effort and commitment, that he and others volunteer make, is also a visible reminder to the public.
“I gauge my effectiveness in how much public education we can do in terms of prevention,” he said.
“The best accident is the one that never happens.”