How did Coquitlam Search and Rescue start? A brief history of its founder Don Cunnings

In February 1972, 50 years ago, two Port Coquitlam teenagers found they couldn’t resist the siren call to climb Burke Mountain’s Munro Lake, writes Coquitlam Search and Rescue founder Don Cunnings .

This article is part of Tri-City News’ tribute to Coquitlam Search and Rescue, which celebrates 50 years in 2022.

In February 1972 – 50 years ago – two teenagers from Port Coquitlam found they couldn’t resist the call of the sirens (which often leads to poor results) to climb to Munro Lake from Burke Mountain, near of Quarry Road in northeast Coquitlam.

Tragically, this alluring call caused one of the boys on the mountain to lose their life.

At the time, the one and only Lower Mainland mountain search and rescue team was located in North Vancouver.

It was therefore to this team that a call for help was made by the Maillardville RCMP detachment, as well as a call to the Comox RCAF rescue squadron.

The volunteer search and rescue team from North Vancouver arrived on Quarry Road early on Day 2, accompanied by two Korean War-era Civil Defense trucks.

One vehicle served as an equipment truck, while the second vehicle served as a mobile coffee and food truck for the team – a welcome vehicle on a bitterly cold February morning.

Incidentally, one of the members of the Maillardville RCMP detachment, Const. Laurie Marshall had just completed a Parks Canada mountain rescue course in Alberta as part of her dog handler training.

This fact allowed Const. Marshall to serve as site commander for Coquitlam.

When the military helicopter arrived from Comox on Day 2, members of the North Vancouver SAR team had already spotted the body of the young teenager in the Munro Creek watershed.

The Comox military helicopter crew recovered the body from the frozen bed of Munro Creek using the aircraft’s cable winch.

Following this event, the Coquitlam District Parks and Recreation Director focused his attention on drafting a report and recommendation to City Council that would see Council authorize the establishment of a SAR Team of Coquitlam.

Unsurprisingly, the board approved the recommendation.

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Aware that a goal without a plan is just a dream, the team founder adopted a three-phase action plan involving

  • a training component
  • a recruitment section
  • an equipment acquisition component

STAGE 1

The need to recruit an excellent search and rescue course instructor for the team was paramount.

Two fellow municipal employees immediately came to mind.

The first was the district engineering department’s mapping supervisor, Wayne Forseth.

The second municipal employee, Peter Licht, had recently transferred from the district’s technical investigation department to the district’s parks and recreation department.

Both men were also auxiliary members of the RCMP.

My approach to the two men had one important prerequisite: they are attending a week-long Advanced Search and Rescue Instructor course in Victoria.

Linked to the training component was also the crucial need for a training room.

To this end, I approached Insp. Marv Young, the new Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Coquitlam RCMP. The inspector did not hesitate to approve the request.

Stage 2

The acceleration of Coquitlam’s Search and Rescue Implementation Plan has now shifted to recruiting team members. I have made the decision to limit recruitment of Coquitlam SAR team members to firefighters and uniformed police.

Phase 3

Finally, I devoted my energy to acquiring the first mobile SAR command post.

Using the front seat of a police cruiser or the engine hood of a vehicle as a mobile command center was anachronistic, and had been proven so during the February 1972 search on Quarry Road at Burke Mountain that led to the formation of the current Coquitlam SAR team.

A rescue boat and a Zodiac trailer have also been added to the team’s equipment inventory

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To donate to Coquitlam Search and Rescue in its 50th year, visit www.coquitlam-sar.bc.ca.

Brandon D. James