Tim Jones, “Angel of the Mountains”

The North Shore has never seen the likes of it before. Last Saturday, hundreds of paramedics in their dark British Columbia Ambulance Service uniforms, and hundreds more brightly-attired search and rescue volunteers from all over the province, marched in a parade to honour their fallen hero. Hundreds more, ordinary folk and VIPs alike, lined the streets to express their appreciation. They then crowded into North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre, or watched on two large screens outside, to share the memorial service for Tim Jones.

Tim Jones died as he had lived, in the North Shore mountains. He was hiking on Mount Seymour on January 19th with his daughter and his dog when, at 57 years of age, he was struck by a heart attack and could not be revived by his teammates, called to transport him to hospital. Larger than life, with an unparalleled passion for rescuing others, his death left an entire community in shock.

Tim Jones earned his living as a paramedic, a veteran with BCAS, the architect of their still-current disaster planning protocol, and a stalwart of their Advanced Life Support Unit. While with the ambulance service, he spent increasing time working with the volunteer search and rescue teams responding to calls from the North Shore mountains. Before long, he was the leader of North Shore Search and Rescue. As a volunteer, he went out or directed more than 1400 searches, more than anyone else on the team, and saved countless lives. He became their leader, mentor, strategic advisor, fundraiser, coach and friend: a veritable “one stop rescue shop” who led by doing. He had the vision to build professional links between paramedics and mountain rescue. He insisted on the best possible equipment, and led the campaign for long line rescue techniques using helicopters. He had the energy, foresight, and determination to build a Search and Rescue Command Centre that became known as “the embassy,” and he as “the ambassador.” According to his colleagues and the officials who dealt with him, “no one said no to Tim Jones.” Having established the world-class reputation of North Shore Rescue, he was awarded the Order of British Columbia and the Canadian Emergency Services Exemplary Services Award. In recent years, he established a Legacy Fund to ensure the financial sustainability of the search and rescue service. That fund has been renamed The Tim Jones Legacy Fund; donations can be made to North Shore Rescue.

Living in the shadow and on the slopes of the mountains, the people of the North Shore (North and West Vancouver) have a particular affinity with their search and rescue team. The forest is their back yard. The trails leading into the mountains from the upper reaches of the neighbourhoods lead into wilderness, real wilderness that does not end. The forests are indescribably thick. The terrain may appear easy but is deceptively rugged. There are rocks, crevices and gullies which can trip up the unwary, and also those who are careful. Experienced hikers, skilled skiers, and veteran woodsman sometimes have accidents. Novices wander into the mountains unprepared, become lost, and are never seen again. Before cellphones, it could be several hours or several days before search and rescue would be advised that a hiker is missing. With cellphones, emergency calls come more quickly, and more often.

For skillful and dedicated volunteers like Tim Jones who put their lives at risk for others as an avocation, rescues are a labour of love, a constant challenge and, when successful, a high beyond measure. For an idea of how search and rescue operates on the North Shore and across Canada, see the CBC documentary To the Rescue.

The memorial service ended with the lift-off of three helicopters used in search and rescue, the ashes of Tim Jones aboard. After circling the city and the crowds below, the helicopters headed for the mountains. As his daughter said, “He is now an angel of the mountains for everybody.”

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