The Lillooet District Rescue Society began with a question – almost a challenge – to members of the Lillooet Fire Department.
Fire Department member Bob Hall recalls that a member of the local RCMP detachment commented in 1991 that the paving of the Duffey Lake Road would mean more traffic on that route and likely more accidents. “What are you prepared to do about that? “ he asked the fire department.
At approximately the same time, local ambulance unit chief Jack Knights was thinking that his crews should add a rescue function to their responsibilities. When he approached the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District for funding to buy rescue equipment, the SLRD told him it couldn’t fund another level of government and suggested that a society be formed instead.
Thus, the Lillooet District Rescue Society was born in 1991. Its founders included Knights, Fire Chief Brian Duguid, RCMP Sgt. Wayne Chenery and Hall, who describes himself as a “gofer” in those early days.
By the end of the year, a giant barometer sign had gone up at the Esso Bulk Plant across from the Totem Restaurant and $3,000 of the $30,000 target had been raised through donations, coins in collections jars and raffles of pop, chips and bubblegum.
“It took off so big, so fast,” says Knights of the community’s all-out fund-raising efforts. “The Village, the regional district, Ainsworth Lumber, the local truckers all made donations. Hydro donated a lot of equipment. A lady came up to Bob Hall and asked him, ‘What do the fellows need?’ and he said they needed coveralls so she gave him money and told him to go buy coveralls.”
When the fund-raising effort was over, $36,000 had been raised, a Jaws of Life set was purchased and there was money left over to buy a used truck from Keith Norton (Bob Hall recalls the truck had a “cozy, three-person cab”). Local welder Manuel Vidal manufactured the equipment box for the truck, a generator was purchased and the Rescue Society was ready to roll.
The would-be rescuers still needed to be trained and Knights took on the job of teaching them to rappel down hillsides, tear cars apart and extract trapped people from vehicles.