In early October, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) formally announced a partnership with the B.C. Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) to create a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) program. This program aims to train and deliver CISM services to RCMSAR’s marine search and rescue volunteers.  

Marine search and rescue volunteers are trained to respond to high-risk situations to save others. Not all searches end in rescues; any mission can quickly turn into a recovery of persons who have perished on the water. Close calls, major injuries, and incidents involving children amongst others can also be very difficult to process. 

CISM is a system of crisis intervention designed to reduce the negative psychological impact of traumatic events that people have been exposed to. Its purpose is to support one’s return to their daily routine more quickly and with less likelihood of experiencing negative long-term effects. 

In mid-October, 12 enthusiastic RCMSAR volunteers completed their training to become CISM peer support members. These 12 volunteers are representative of the various regions in BC to ensure that all 31 stations have access to skilled CISM-trained volunteers. They now can facilitate guided conversations to help people process difficult events and to understand that they are not alone and that their thoughts, feelings, and reactions are natural and common.  

Having the support of a dedicated team is an amazing gift to our volunteers. Post-training, these CISM-trained RCMSAR volunteers will apprentice with a BCSARA peer support person to lead interventions themselves within 12 months. 

“The power of peer support is incredible! As volunteer first responders, our members are ready to help those in distress. Tough callouts happen, and it is not a matter of if but when we will be exposed to a critical incident. Through the CISM program, our RCMSAR volunteers have access to a network of trained peer support personnel thanks to BCSARA’s initial training,” shares Erin Heeney, RCMSAR’s Instructor & Training Coordinator and fellow volunteer with RCMSAR Stations 12 and 37.  

“The partnership and collaboration with BCSARA to make this program a reality for RCMSAR is extraordinary! We are extremely grateful for their support and inclusion in this very important resource. The potential of our two organizations together is inspiring and will strengthen the resiliency of SAR volunteers across the province,” continues Heeney. 

Operating the largest all-volunteer critical incident support network in North America, BCSARA provides peer support, post-incident debriefing, and resiliency resources to help search and rescue (SAR) volunteers deal with the stresses experienced during SAR operations. 

“The Ground Search and Rescue CISM program has been in place since 2007 and over the years has supported thousands of SAR members as requested after tough calls. It is considered a leader in North America’s volunteer CISM peer support. A critical incident can happen to anyone, so it is very rewarding to see RCMSAR taking this important step to support their members,” says Chris Mushumanski, BCSARA’s President. 

The RCMSAR CISM Peer Support group is looking forward to delivering education and awareness presentations to our volunteers to build awareness of the program and signs of critical incident stress.  

RCMSAR volunteers can activate CISM at any time by emailing cism.request[at]