The Canadian Forces have signed a unique memorandum of understanding with the Ontario Provincial Police to have Canadian Rangers provide formal support in ground search and rescue operations in northern Ontario.
It is the first of its kind in Canada, where provincial police services are the lead agency for ground search and rescue. The OPP are the lead in Ontario, the Quebec provincial police in Quebec, and the RCMP in the rest of Canada.
“It’s quite a significant document,” said Capt. Mark Rittwage, officer commanding the Canadian Ranger Company at 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. “The OPP are responsible for ground search and rescue throughout Ontario and they don’t have much of a presence in the top half of the province, where we have 600 Rangers in 23 First Nations. The OPP have developed a tremendous trust in what the Rangers can do.
“They have formally asked us to assist them and it’s a win-win situation. We have Rangers who come south and go on a two-week OPP search and rescue course, held here at (Canadian Forces Base) Borden, and get qualified by the OPP to their standard.”
“The Rangers are Rangers because of their expert knowledge of their local areas. We provide them with military training that makes them inter-operable with the rest of the Army. And that has proven significant, because now the OPP see the Rangers as part of the Army and as a trained body of troops who are well led and can conduct ground searches with great competence,” Rittwage added.
The agreement formalizes an informal understanding that developed over the past decade between the Rangers and the OPP. It saw Rangers participating with greater frequency in ground search and rescue situations across the Far North of Ontario. Depending on the weather and the time needed to assemble an emergency response team it could take anywhere from a few hours to a day or more for OPP officers to fly into a remote community. By then, local Rangers were already fully engaged in a search and had often concluded it. If the search was ongoing when the OPP arrived its officers took over the search and the Rangers assisted them with their specialized local knowledge and on-the-land skills.
“It has worked out well for us and we are happy to formalize it,” said Sgt. Jamie Stirling, provincial search and rescue coordinator for the OPP. “The Rangers are a great asset for us. Having them train with us is working very well, too. Not only are the Rangers learning from us and seeing the value in organizing a systematic search the way we do it but we are picking up skills from the Rangers that have been passed on to them through the generations.”
Ten Rangers have completed the OPP’s two week training course and more will be taking it, Capt. Rittwage said. The intent is to have a minimum of two OPP-qualified Rangers in each Ranger patrol across northern Ontario. There are also plans for additional Rangers to take the OPP’s two-week search manager course so that each patrol can have a qualified search manager.
In the past, full-time army instructors, who have also taken OPP training, were invariably dispatched to supervise Rangers in searches, Capt. Rittwage said. “We no longer have to do that,” he said. “The Ranger patrol commanders are now so well trained and experienced that they are more than capable of running their own ground search and rescue operations in northern Ontario.”
During the past winter Rangers were credited by the OPP with saving the lives of several lost people in challenging weather conditions that prevented OPP officers from flying into the communities to join the searches.
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)
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