Karen Gretzinger is exactly the kind of person that you would want coming to your rescue if things went wrong in the backcountry.
She is a long-standing member of the Central Okanagan Search and Rescue team and is a confident, positive and skilled athlete.
The day Gretzinger was to meet with the Capital News she had biked to the outdoor meeting with a beaming smile on her face. She had already enjoyed the day of cross country skiing and was still happy to be outdoors in the sun, even if the wind added its challenges.
“When I retired I was in the backcountry almost everyday and was involved in a few rescues,” said Gretzinger about her motivation to join COSAR. “I saw the advertisements that they were looking for recruits six years ago, I applied and I was thrilled to get in.”
She is a member of the mountain bike and boat rescue teams at COSAR and an instructor for the new recruits. Volunteers, like her, at COSAR are on call 24/7. She said that this type of volunteer position takes dedication and the calls for help always seem to come at the wrong time.
“There is a funny saying with search and rescue,” she said. “They’ll take what you can give and ask for more.”
COSAR had a record-breaking number of calls in 2021 and Gretzinger was involved in some difficult searches and rescues.
The job is physically demanding but Gretzinger is not one to give up. She has a “can-do attitude” and is dedicated to bringing victims home.
“When everything is a success, that is just such a great feeling,” she said.
Unfortunately, not all searches have a happy ending but Gretzinger said that “it’s not always the best, but it is a relief to the family.”
Some memories that stand out from her time on COSAR involve multi-week searches consisting of 14 hour days in the blistering heat and hours of exhausting work in dark and cold conditions to deliver victims to safety.
When disaster strikes Gretzinger and the diverse team members at COSAR jump into action. She said that the team includes people from unique backgrounds like a specialized K9 handler, helicopter and high angle rope experts, snowmobilers, and mountain bikers. She was proud to say that some of the most demanding positions on the team are held by women.
“Women are definitely an equal component. Even though we don’t have the numbers we are still treated very equally. We are in every kind of role,” said Gretzinger.
Currently, only about 15 per cent of the team is female but thanks to representation like Gretzinger, that is changing. She said that the new batch of recruits has nearly double the typical number of females. Female members of the search and rescue team are valued equally according to Gretzinger. They are involved in the same rescues and held to the same standard as their male partners, no matter how physical the challenge is.
Gretzinger said she wants to live in a world where being a female member of search and rescue teams is not out of the ordinary.