BAY ROBERTS, NL — For the past 35 years, Bay Roberts and surrounding communities have had a strong group of volunteers to look after emergencies in the area.
The Avalon North Wolverines Search and Rescue – named after the mammal known for its ferocity and tracking skills – first started 35 years ago in 1983. Although today the group takes on a multitude of search and rescue missions, members Perry Bowering, Clyde Mercer and Clarence Russell – three of the four remaining original members of the group, alongside Roy Mercer – recall things being quite different when the organization began.
In the early years of the Wolverines’ activity in Trinity-Conception Placentia, the group focused solely on inland rescues, particularly in wooded areas.
Now, as Bowering explained, the group has moved into water rescue and retrieval along saltwater shorelines, and has been outfitted with a helicopter repelling team, an ice water rescue team, and a lengthy list of helpful equipment including hovercrafts, drones and top-of-the-line radio gear.
“We’ve gone from just searching in the woods to a little bit of everything,” Bowering said. “There’s definitely been a lot of changes over the last 35 years. Lots of big steps compared to what we were when we first started off.”
The Wolverines originally started as a section of the Bay Roberts Volunteer Fire Department. Members of the brigade would conduct search and rescue missions. Over time, the group became its own separate entity.
Since then, the Wolverines have become not only a search and rescue group, but also active members of the community, taking part in different volunteer efforts and fundraising events over the years, with upwards of 40 active members.
“We’re always trying to help out around the community however we can,” Bowering explained. “So, I think people have come to rely on us, not only for search and rescue, but as active volunteers in the community as well, and we’re more than happy to take that on.”
With lengthy careers as Wolverines, Bowering, Mercer and Russell all agree the nature of the group’s missions has changed drastically over the years, with most of the group’s earlier missions revolving around people being lost in the woods.
Now, as Mercer explained to the Compass, the group’s efforts have delved deeper, with missions including evidence and body searches in all types of terrain.
The trio attributed this shift in situations to a couple key factors – improved technology for both regular residents and search and rescue squads, and education for children in the province.
“Because of the nature of things, when we first started off we were usually only doing searches. But nowadays, as things change and improve over time, we’re conducting evidence searches, sometimes involving children. You name it, we’re involved in it,” said Mercer. “The kinds of stuff we’re involved in these days, you’ve got to be committed to it.”
Despite sometimes unfortunate outcomes of situations the Wolverines find themselves in, members agreed one of the main rewards of their involvement in the group is the closure they can provide.
“It’s very rewarding when you can go out on a call and bring someone home,” Mercer explained. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and that’s the nature of it, but even then, you can bring closure – answers to the families involved, even if that means bringing a body to shore.”
“Over half of what we do these days is body recoveries,” Bowering added. “With all the technology these days, a lot less people are just simply getting lost. If you don’t know where you are and there’s cell phone service, you can just call someone, or use a GPS.
“It isn’t hard to track someone down at all. It’s when there’s been an accident, or someone just didn’t make it home – we’re finding a lot more of that these days instead of just finding someone who’s lost in the woods.”
The Wolverines have also played an active role in educating people across the province about safety, something they happily credit for the lower number of inland search calls they respond to as the years go by.
They take part in programs such as Hug a Tree, as well as other search and rescue operations in the province, which allow them to educate children on the dos and don’ts if they find themselves lost in nature.
“Basically, it teaches them to stay put if they get lost, rather than wander around and get themselves even further in,” explained Russell. “And the best part about it is, it’s working. Education is working. Even something as simple as kids putting their seatbelts on when they get in a car – something someone my age might not think about right away – is ingrained in their heads.”
The Wolverines have developed a significant presence in Bay Roberts and surrounding communities, and they look forward to continuing their efforts in the coming years.
“Hopefully, this milestone is just one of many more to come,” Bowering said.