A love of the forest – and a desire to give back to the community.
What better reasons that to volunteer with an organization that appreciates both?
The group in question is the Exploits Search and Rescue team, one of 27 in the province with dedicated members who want to use their rescue and woodcraft skills and hone them into finding those in distress – whether in the wooded areas covering much of the province, or on its seas and rivers.
And they also step in to assist with disaster situations, such as the great forest fires that threatened Badger and Grand Falls-Windsor several years ago.
Dave Morrow is one of the first members to volunteer when the province's search and rescue teams were established in 1982. He explained the network was the creation of the RCMP and Emergency Measures in St. John's; both realized they had a shortage of trained manpower, and they were getting calls for a lot of searches.
Both started volunteer search and rescue teams attached to various detachments across the province. The Exploits team has 42 members.
People volunteer for several reasons, he said.
"A lot of guys like the woods, and we do a lot of searching in the woods," Morrow explained.
He added members like to use their skill in the woods. However, others have friends on the team, heard about Exploits Search and Rescue in the media, and see involvement in the group as a good way to use their time.
People are also attracted the same way they would be to join the volunteer fire department, Morrow said.
"It's a way to give back to the community, but also to use skills you've acquired all your life," he added.
There are even retired fellows who join to kill some of their retirement time, added retiree Art Symonds, grinning at fellow member Junior Downey, a former mill worker now retired in the wake of the AbitibiBowater shutdown.
"I wanted to get back into volunteering again," added Downey. "It's the gratification of this group here. They work as a team and when anything goes wrong, your whole life is forgotten. You focus on what's at hand, and I think that's what I enjoy the most."
The group has been called "Ground Search and Rescue" in the past, but the team is trained for much more than that. Some work from high-end helicopters; members also use specialized marine craft for search and retrieval at sea. There are also ATVs and even a hovercraft, ideal for use on ice and snow, as well as on other terrain.
And don't forget the Exploits Search and Rescue communications bus, bristling with antennas and satellite dishes, with sophisticated radio equipment. All controlled by volunteers, and all dedicated to the saving of lives.
Exploits Search and Rescue's coverage area is bigger than Prince Edward Island – from Twillingate to down to Harbour Breton, South Brook to Terra Nova Park.
The most rewarding aspect of search and rescue endeavours? The truth is simple.
"Finding them alive," said Symonds and Morrow.
"It's using your training, that you've been doing for years and years, and applying it, and coming up with good results," added Keith Lindahl.
Missing people, especially in the woods, often tend to be berry pickers and hunters. Even cell phones and GPSes aren't always reliable: cells may be out of range, and batteries can die.
Unfortunately, the team doesn't always find missing individuals alive. But even being able to return the remains of a deceased person to their family is also gratifying, said Morrow.
"You're giving the family closure. There's nothing worse than that not being able to find a person. That's very rare. If that's the case, we just keep plugging away at it."
Members also visit schools to promote woodcraft, boating, snowmobiling and skiing safety, and rescue skills. People interested in joining can get applications from the Grand Falls-Windsor RCMP detachment.