Lillooet Rescue team member Bea Galliazzo stands beside the window of a station wagon, hefting a heavy piece of glass-breaking equipment.
“Breaking glass, breaking glass,” she yells as a warning to the “accident victim” trapped inside the vehicle. With a swing and a smash, she demolishes the driver-side window, sending showers of glass falling to the ground.
That accident rescue scenario was all part of a recent full day of training exercises for Galliazzo and other rescue team members. These volunteer community members spent an entire weekend in courses and hands-on training conducted by Don Trudeau and Barry Hasler from True-Way Rescue Services.
Team leader Max Paulhus says there’s no substitute for hands-on experience for the members of his squad – Al Auger, Corey DeKelver, Robin DeKelver, Chris Dreyer, Arron Essery, Challen Ferron, Bain Gair, Bea Galliazzo, Mike Galliazzo, Dave Ralston, Pat Willoughby and reserve member Shane Phillips.
Paulhus was the head of Lytton’s rescue team before moving here and becoming the team leader, mentor and trainer in Lillooet. He grew up in Barriere, where he was vice-president of that community’s search and rescue society. Here in Lillooet, the team serves a rescue function only, with no search component.
Why did he take on such a stressful, dangerous and challenging volunteer position?
“I find it interesting and my other reason for doing it is if someday I’m in an accident, I just hope there’s someone on the scene to help me,” replied Paulhus.
He candidly says that not everyone is cut out to be a rescue squad member.
“I’ve seen things I’d rather not,” he says simply of his on-site accident experiences.
Paulhus says some would-be members of the squad are “are chased away during their first conversation” with him.
“We don’t tolerate any alcohol, we don’t tolerate any drugs; we’re in tight with the RCMP and the ambulance. Whether you’re new and you’ve lived here five or six months or whether you’ve lived here for 30 years and know everyone in town, you’re going to have to work with it if you see your neighbour in that car at that accident scene. If you don’t feel comfortable, then someone else is going to have to do it,” he explains.
“There is blood and again, it’s something you’re going to have to work with. I can’t lie and say it’s a peachy, fluffy walk through park,” he continues. “When we show up, people are alive and when we leave, sometimes they’re not. I try to lay it on the line to start with and let people deal with that from the start. The other aspect of that is when children are involved and that’s a whole other thing.”
He adds, “The flip side of all that is we can save somebody’s life. If we don’t show up, they don’t make it.”
Lillooet Rescue is funded by the District of Lillooet and Areas A and B of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, with additional support from the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP). Branch 66 of the Royal Canadian Legion is an ongoing supporter of the rescue team, recently donating money for night lights to light accident scenes at night and a new generator.
Paulhus says the group has all the tools it needs now – spreaders, a cutter, a ram, a window-breaking tool – but as technology changes and vehicles become ever more sophisticated, the squad needs to upgrade to newer tools to work on newer cars.
He says smart cars “are literally a nightmare to get a person out of. You have to know what activates the airbags. Two bags could go off, but there could be eight other airbags that could go off and kill me or you or both of us.”
The group holds practices the first and third Mondays of every month. Paulhus says the rescue squad owes a particular debt of gratitude to T& T Automotive.
“As a group, we owe a huge thank you to T&T for having the yard for us to go play in. It’s a huge asset, huge in every way. We owe a lot to the boys up there at the top of the hill for letting us hold that training course up there and use the cars they have there,” said Paulhus. “It’s a huge asset to us to be able to go up there and practice tearing cars apart; it’s stuff you can’t learn in a textbook. They said to us, ‘Some day you may be saving my child’s life.’ They’ve been very supportive.”
Paulhus says there is “no rhyme or reason when the crew could be called out. The May long weekend seems to be a busy time, but other than that, it could be a sunny day or it could be when there’s six feet of snow.”
Lillooet Rescue recently added five new members, which reduces the demands on the other, more long-term members. “Before that we were down to five or six members, and with Chris Dreyer in Lytton during the week and other members’ work schedules, there were times we were down to three or four guys.”
One of those new members is Bea Galliazzo, the first woman to join the Lillooet Rescue team.
“There is a place for every person on my squad,” says Paulhus. “Bea is limited in her strength, but we don’t need brute strength from everyone. There are lots of other ways she can contribute and lots of other abilities she has.”
He continues, “There are a lot of little details for a new member to learn. For example, to walk in like Bea has, she has great heart but there’s a whole other world she never knew anything about before. Even for a person who’s a mechanic, it’s different. You know how a car works, but do you know how to take it apart when you’re dealing with eight layers of steel versus three layers?”
Paulhus said his squad’s credo is:
• Safety for all
• Complete the task
• Get the victim out
• Walk home at the end of the day
He recalls an accident on Highway 40 when Lillooet Rescue saved the life of an elderly Gun Lake resident. Squad members climbed down over the bank, put the man in a basket and brought him back up to safety.
Two months later, the man’s daughter encountered Paulhus in Lillooet and thanked him for saving her father’s life.
“Gratitude doesn’t come back to us very often, but when you hear someone say, ‘You saved my life’ or ‘You saved my father’s life,’ it means a lot.” Editor's Note January 11, 2011 In our pre-Christmas story on the Lillooet Rescue Society, the Lillooet News reported that Bea Galliazzo is the first woman member of the Rescue Squad. That was inaccurate. Although she is currently the only female member, the squad had at least two female members 15 to 20 years ago. Our apologies for the error.