Canadian Rangers complete challenging OPP search and rescue course

December 31, 2019 - Defence Stories

Author: Peter Moon

Master Corporal Pamela Chookomoolin and Corporal Ralph Begg walk across fallen trees during a training search.

A group of Canadian Rangers representing five First Nations from the Far North of Ontario have completed a challenging search and rescue course led by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The two-week course is the same SAR training that members of OPP’s elite emergency response teams are required to complete as part of their specialist training.

“This is very demanding training with long days that challenges them both mentally and physically,” said WO Daniel Stortz, a Canadian Army instructor. “We conduct searches on behalf of the OPP in Northern Ontario. With Rangers completing this training the OPP know the Rangers have completed the same training as the OPP’s ERT members have and will operate in the same way.”

The Northern Ontario-based Rangers, who are part-time army reservists, have a unique relationship with the OPP. They are the only Rangers in Canada who receive police training in SAR and have a formal agreement to do search and rescue on behalf of the police force. The OPP are the lead agency for SAR in Ontario, a role assumed by the Quebec provincial police in Quebec and the RCMP throughout the remaining provinces and territories.

“Assembling a trained OPP SAR team and flying into a remote First Nation may take up to eight hours or longer, depending on the weather,” expressed Sgt John Meaker, the OPP’s provincial SAR coordinator. “By then, the Rangers have usually found the missing person or persons.”

There are more than 600 Rangers in 27 remote and isolated First Nations in the Far North of Ontario. Since 2015, the Rangers have rescued more than 100 people.

Sergeant John Meaker, the OPP’s provincial search and rescue co-ordinator, addresses Canadian Rangers at CFB Borden.

The training was a combination of in-class and outdoor training at CFB Borden. The outdoor training took place in a variety of environments and conditions, throughout the day and night. The course concluded with two exercises on the base’s Pine River and in Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, throughout which the challenge included navigating in open spaces, through a swamp, undercover of the woods, and safely climbing steep cliffs.

“I’m glad I came for this, I’ve learned a lot,” said MCpl Pamela Chookomoolin from Peawanuck, a small Cree community near the Hudson Bay coast. “A lot of our people go on the land and their snow machines break down, or there’s a blizzard and they are overdue, or there’s an emergency of some kind and we have go out and look for them. I’ve done searches myself.” She said she will be the third Ranger in her local patrol to complete the OPP training.

Navigation is emphasized throughout the course, developing skills such as the ability to correctly read a map and compass and properly using a GPS device. “We have to be really precise when we plot (map) bearings,” she said. “Before I would just a make a big circle.” MCpl Chookomoolin has done searches where the Ranger search party had to communicate with military aircraft. The OPP training will allow her to give more precise information about locations to the pilots.

“They have a quiet strength in them,” Sgt Meaker said. “You can really see that they have a sense of community and want the best for everyone in their communities and they are willing to sacrifice their time and energy to do that.” Not only was Sgt Meaker impressed by the Rangers desire to help the members of their communities when they go missing but additionally their abilities on land. “They are good on the land,” he added. “I would say they are gifted that way. They are very relaxed and at ease in the woods.”

(Sgt Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)

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