There are no volunteers like those on the front line of emergency work. While doctors, firefighters and ambulance paramedics work for a wage, there are like-minded people like Varinder Bhangu and Graig Pearen who do similar work for no pay at all. They love to be there when disaster strikes, putting the pieces back together. Varinder, Graig and four other British Columbians were recently honoured as PEP Volunteers of the Year.
PEP the Provincial Emergency Program is a highly organized network of emergency response systems connecting all of B.C. There are 13,000 volunteers working under the auspices of PEP, and they work in five distinct fields of service. Every year PEP awards distinction to one outstanding volunteer from each of these sectors: Emergency Social Services, Search & Rescue, PEP Air, Emergency Radio Communications and Road Rescue.
Varinder works for Lakeland Mills and on the side he is a member of the Fort George Highway Rescue Society, a highly-equipped team based in Prince George that attends to any kind of vehicle crash outside the jurisdiction of local fire and rescue crews. In other words, without FGHRS there wouldn’t be anyone coming to extricate you from your crash except police or ambulance with hand tools.
“It’s extremely rewarding as you know your efforts can save lives,” says Varinder. “One memorable occasion was when I pulled a young man out of his crushed pick-up truck. It was a snowy winter day and the fellow was shivering from the cold. As the ambulance driver took him away the wounded man said Thank you for saving my life.’ That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Graig Pearen works for Telus and uses his telecommunications knowledge to help emergency preparedness. He started as a ham radio amateur and is now the emergency communications co-ordinator for the City of Prince George. It is a behind-the-scenes position that makes a life-saving for those out in the field. It allows emergency workers to communicate even when regular links are broken or non-existent. Graig did much to establish this for the top half of the province.
“I enjoy bringing people closer together,” Graig says. “Setting up the emergency communication infrastructure in the North East took a lot of energy and has proven to be very worthwhile. We have a very capable and effective team that can adapt quickly to any emergency situation.”
We’ve got excellent people in the north. It’s almost another full-time job for these people, over and above their paying job. These are volunteers, remember,” says Bob Kelly, regional manager in this, the largest PEP region of the province (from the Central Coast through the Cariboo up to the Peace River area). Bob notes that it is extremely rare for a local volunteer to win the award (Gord Meakin won it in the Search & Rescue category in the early 90s) let alone two from Prince George in one year. It is testament to the training and dedication local emergency volunteers take upon themselves.
The North East district also had nominees in the other categories. Lisa Jeffries of Fort St. John was the nominee for Emergency Social Services, Bob Zimmerman of Quesnel was the nominee for Search & Rescue, Ron Caldwell was the nominee in the PEP Air category.