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Course prepares police for outdoor survival

Members trek into the woods to learn how to deal with worst-case scenarios as part of a five-day winter survival course. Credit: S/Cst. Barry Prochera

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Working in northern Saskatchewan, S/Cst. Barry Prochera noticed that many new members posted to rural northern detachments were from the city with little experience in the outdoors.

This is a potential problem for members who are often required to work in the bush.

"Up North we have to be proficient in searching for people lost in the bush and patrolling on skidoos," says Prochera. "A lot of times we're driving our police units in remote areas and should anything break down, there's no help."

As a search and rescue (SAR) commander and Deep Insertion Team member, Prochera found himself teaching members the skills to be able to not only do their job, but also how to survive should they find themselves in a bad situation.

Earning himself a reputation as the go-to person for teaching survival skills, Prochera says his bosses often send new members to him for lessons.

A course for confidence

When he heard about an outdoor survival course through the Air Services Section, Prochera knew he had to take it. He immediately connected with instructor Patrick (Paddy) Mercer because they're both passionate about safety in the outdoors.

Having served as a SAR technician with the Canadian Forces, Mercer knows that the worst scenario a person could probably ever get into is a survival situation.

"In my career, I've been to too many sites out to sea and especially on land, where if people had a little bit of training, they'd have survived before we got to them, but all too often, we've gotten there and they've already passed away," says Mercer.

He started Survival Canada to pass on that knowledge. And Prochera and Mercer agreed that this training would be beneficial for all members to have, especially those that work in rural detachments. It could mean the difference between life and death.

They got to work writing a proposal for a course for RCMP members in F Division.

"I came back, and thankfully my proposal didn't fall on deaf ears because Supt. Grant St. Germaine was proactive on this," says Prochera. "They let Paddy and me run it and we took our members into the bush for a five-day winter-survival course."

Members spent one day in the classroom and four in the field. The course was tailored to the RCMP, with specific scenarios added, like an ice rescue situation.

"They gave us all the building blocks in the classroom portion and then we went out and built on those skills and put them to the test," says Cpl. Kelly Dinsdale, La Ronge Detachment.

They learned what they have to do on the ground to make themselves visible to aircrafts flying over, as well as how to build shelters, light fires, find food, do basic first aid, use different tools and use a map and compass.

"There's a survival pattern — it's first aid, fire, shelters, signals, food and water," says Mercer. "If you keep that in mind, that will keep what we call the enemies of survival away, like the pain, cold, hunger, thirst, boredom, insects and animals."

Mostly, what they want members to take away from the course is the knowledge that they can handle the worst-case scenario.

"After taking the course, if they ever get into a worst-case scenario, and they're confident enough that they can set up and survive until someone comes and rescues them, we've done our job," says Mercer.

Invaluable skills

Prochera asked participants for feedback. Some offered advice, like more scenario-based and hands-on exercises, which Prochera and Mercer will add to the course the next time they run it. But everyone agreed that it was essential.

"If we can train the members as they come to the North, they'll do a better job helping the public and protecting themselves and making sure that we get the job done," says Prochera.

Dinsdale says the course is invaluable for members as more than half of them work in rural settings.

"We had members that had come from Toronto and never camped before," says Dinsdale. "I think for them especially, it built so much confidence and teaches them valuable skills because it's not a question of if you're going to use it, it's when you're going to use it."

Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 2, 2015).

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