Off Duty

Off Duty

LIFE SAVER Lions Gate Hospital's Kayla Brolly is one of only seven women who volunteer for the Lower Mainland's 50-person North Shore Rescue team. Photo: Grant Baldwin.

Kayla Brolly uses her nursing skills to rescue wilderness travellers

Kayla Brolly's life before nursing may have been considered hazardous by some. The North Vancouver resident helped injured skiers as a full-time professional ski patroller at Grouse Mountain, and in the summer, she fought wildfires in the Interior for the province's Firefighter Rappel Program — where she was trained to rappel from a helicopter into inaccessible areas during a wildfire.

Brolly has since added North Shore Rescue (NSR) volunteer to her resume, which takes her directly into the depths of the Lower Mainland's North Shore mountains to find lost, injured and sometimes deceased wilderness travellers.

Brolly did a stint in the medicine unit at North Vancouver's Lions Gate Hospital after graduating from UBC's school of nursing in 2014. Within the year she had completed her ER training at BCIT and began working full time. "I love it. I love the people there and it's always interesting," she says enthusiastically about her job.

That energy and passion clearly translates to Brolly's volunteer work at NSR. "The commitment is massive. It consumes a lot of your free time," she says happily.

Founded in 1965, NSR is an all volunteer-run community-based search and rescue team of approximately 20 volunteer support staff and 50 full-time members who are expected to be on-call 24/7 and respond to calls if they are available. Because of its proximity to a major metropolitan area, NSR is one of the busiest search and rescue services in Canada.

Applicants go through a rigorous acceptance process, which emphasizes time commitment. Brolly was told to give at least 300 hours a year when she applied in 2013. According to NSR, the organization performs approximately 120 search and rescue operations annually, with some lasting multiple days. "Our call base is seasonal, with summer being our busiest," says Brolly. "We might get five calls in a weekend and then in the fall you might not get a call for three weeks. I volunteer about 500 hours a year on average."

Like all new members to the rescue team, she was a designated member-in-training for her first two years, which required continual preparation, practical and written exams and regular evaluations. 

Being at the ready to respond to calls quickly and safely is what Brolly and her NSR colleagues prepare for, and just like nursing, she says there's a lot of training and preparation behind the scenes that the public doesn't see. 

Brolly headed up NSR's education arm for a couple of years. The organization emphasizes public education to help reduce critical incidents. Team members provide talks to community groups and staff booths at outdoor shows to help educate the public about outdoor safety. "You never want to see someone lost or injured, so getting that preventive messaging out is really important," she says.

Brolly says she gets a lot of benefit from her volunteer work despite the potential risk and hours.

"Even though it's work, it doesn't feel like it – there's camaraderie and the rescue team is like family," she explains. "I also enjoy being able to help someone out of a tricky situation and it really means a lot when you can bring loved ones home."

In a hospital setting Brolly says she can work her 12-hour shift and sometimes not see a patient improve. But it's different in the field. "We're with people for a shorter period, but it's a significant moment when we approach people who've been awaiting a rescue. It's energizing and feels really good to get them back." 

Members can watch Brolly on Knowledge Network's five-part original series: Search and Rescue: North Shore. The series follows the members of Canada's busiest volunteer search and rescue team as they set off by foot and helicopter to rescue people from the rugged wilderness of Vancouver's North Shore. •

UPDATE (Spring 2021)

UPDATED: November 17, 2022

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