North Shore Rescue to keep Tim Jones's dream alive

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The day after a public parade and memorial service for Tim Jones, the esteemed North Shore Rescue (NSR) volunteer who died recently while hiking, the organization got a distress call. It was late in the afternoon on January 26, and a family of eight was lost on Grouse Mountain near the Baden-Powell Trail. They’d set out around noon, planning to hike to the top and then go ice skating. Without emergency supplies, proper footwear, or warm clothing, the group called for help once they realized they were lost and darkness was starting to fall.

“The page came in around 5 p.m.,” says NSR volunteer John Blown by phone, explaining that at the time, he and several members of the rescue group were gathered at the organization’s base with Jones’s family for a private memorial ceremony offered by the Squamish Nation. The hikers had cellphone reception and were able to describe their surroundings. Quickly, Blown and other volunteers, including Jones’s son, Curtis, headed out to help.

“The whole area [where the family was found] is kind of a maze of trails, so it’s easy to get lost,” says Blown, who heads a company called 6S Marketing. “We got their GPS coordinates, packed up from the base, and headed up. We were able to find them fairly quickly. Within half an hour, we were on-scene with them. They were basically standing in the woods in the dark with no idea where they were.” He couldn’t help but notice that the soles of one of the individuals’ shoes were practically falling off.

“It was a good rescue,” he adds. “It was a fitting end to the weekend.”

On January 25, thousands of people came out to remember Tim Jones, who died on January 19 following sudden cardiac arrest on Mount Seymour. His memorial was the kind of service usually reserved for heads of state, with a parade that closed off streets in North Vancouver. After a private service at Centennial Theatre, four helicopters lifted off from a nearby field. One was a Talon helicopter that took Jones’s remains for one last flight over the North Shore mountains. The bright-yellow chopper soaring against the cloudless blue sky on an impossibly warm winter day made for a powerful image.

The overwhelming public outpouring of grief was a testament to Jones’s dedication to NSR. During his 25 years of volunteer service, Jones was involved in more than 1,400 rescue operations that saved the lives of scores of skiers, snowboarders, and hikers. He’d often put in 40 hours a week or more on top of his job as a paramedic. He’d become the group’s de facto spokesperson, often quoted in the media as saying that people who are rescued should not have to foot the bill, since such a rule would discourage some people from seeking desperately needed assistance in the first place.

Ean Jackson was picked up by Tim Jones in a helicopter three years ago. No stranger to the North Shore mountains, the amateur endurance athlete knows that sometimes things go awry for even the hardiest weekend warriors.

Jackson and a friend were running up mountains in the backcountry researching North Shore peaks when they realized they’d gone way further than they’d anticipated. Late at night, they knew their best plan of action was to stay put. They were prepared, with a foil blanket and other emergency supplies, but without any cell reception, they had no way of contacting their families to tell them they were safe.

“It was all overgrown sketchy trails up there,” Jackson, an entrepreneur, recalls in a phone interview. “We were snuggled up under a piece of tinfoil. We were pretty cold, though.”

At 5:30 the next morning, they managed to get cell coverage and put in a call to Tim Jones.

“He picked up and said he was just about to get into a helicopter to come and get us,” Jackson says, noting that he and his fellow hiker were willing to make the 15-hour hike back to the parking lot and felt confident they could do it. But Jones insisted on coming to get them, given what they’d already endured.

“By 6:30, we were back at our car,” Jackson says. “I’ll always be thankful to him for getting us home safely.

“I don’t think he did what he did [with NSR] because he wanted to be recognized as a hero but because he was deeply motivated to do the right thing and was passionate about the outdoors,” he adds. “The NSR do very good work and they do it altruistically. They are part of mountain culture here.”

Before he died, Jones was actively planning for the organization’s future.

“He’d become a big advocate recently to find more stable funding for search and rescue in general in B.C., for North Shore Rescue and for other teams as well,” Blown says. “Traditionally, in B.C. and across Canada, search and rescue has largely always been volunteer, similar to fire-and-rescue crews in smaller towns. If you paid everyone for the amount of hours we put in, it would probably be cost-prohibitive. No one’s asking to be paid, but every search and rescue would appreciate support from the government for equipment and training.”

Other than conducting rescues in wilderness environments, NSR helps with urban searches, too, assisting police in cases of lost or missing children. Volunteers are also prepared to provide disaster relief and to help rescue teams throughout B.C. and Washington state. NSR members also talk to community groups about outdoor safety, and they go through ongoing, rigorous training year-round.

“One of the challenges is we don’t know how much money we’re going to get each year,” Blown adds. “We apply for grants and ask for donations from the public and from companies and manage to scrape by each year, but it’s difficult to plan without some kind of stable funding model. Some kind of commitment from some form of government would make things for us and other search-and-rescue organizations less stressful, and that was what Tim really wanted with this legacy fund.”

Jones had a target of $6 million, with the idea being for NSR to use interest for its operating costs, Blown explains. The organization is keeping his dream alive, raising donations for that goal via the Tim Jones Legacy Fund.

At Jones’s service, his son told the crowd: “Dad, when the pager goes, we’ll be there.”

Just a day after his memorial, for that cold and disoriented family, they were.

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