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Vernon search and rescue member recognized for decades of leadership

Coralie Nairn is a recipient of the 2024 Community Award
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Vernon’s Coralie Nairn is a recipient of a 2024 Community Award. (Submitted photo)

A Vernon woman who plays a pivotal leadership role in local search and rescue operations has been recognized with a prestigious provincial award.

Coralie Nairn, a level two manager with Vernon Search and Rescue (VSAR), is one of 20 recipients of a 2024 Community Award, presented by the BC Achievement Foundation.

The award recognizes extraordinary British Columbians who build better, stronger and more resilient communities.

“It’s pretty surreal. I didn’t see it coming so it’s very humbling,” Nairn told The Morning Star. “I’m walking on a cloud right now.”

Nairn’s 35-year tenure with search and rescue has been defined by her role in advancing VSAR to become one of B.C.’s leading search and rescue groups.

Starting as a ground search team member with Central Okanagan Search and Rescue (formerly Kelowna Search and Rescue), Nairn has 11 years experience with the Canadian Civil Air Search and Rescue Association. She was also a search and rescue master with the Canadian military.

On top of her role with VSAR, Nairn is a program instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia, where she has trained over 1,000 children and 500 adults, focusing on the importance of safety during outdoor exploration.

Asked why she chose to get involved with search and rescue, Nairn said as a teenager she was babysitting one day and saw a search and rescue documentary on TV.

“I thought I would like to do that professionally, and it turned out the only search and rescue you could do professionally was through the military,” she said.

When she was starting out with search and rescue groups, she found it was a male-dominated field. But as the decades have passed, more and more women have decided to join the field.

“I think I broke the ice,” she said of being the only woman in the Kelowna search and rescue group when she was starting out.

Despite being a woman, she has “not met any barriers” in her search and rescue work.

“As long as I was capable and maintained the capability, I didn’t have any barriers in doing what I wanted to do.”

Nairn has been with VSAR for almost 25 years, and said today the team is comprised of about 30 per cent women.

“It’s more about commitment than sex or how you identify,” she said.

Search and rescue operations have evolved considerably since Nairn started out in the late 1980s, and technology has been the driving force of these changes.

“Back in the day, we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have cell phones, we didn’t have the technology, or GPS, or satellite devices,” Nairn said, explaining the team relied on handlheld radios, paper topographic maps and compasses.

Nowadays, search teams have fleets of ATVs, electronic mapping and plenty of other tools that make rescue missions easier than they’ve ever been.

Search and rescue work is 100 per cent volunteer based. VSAR has about 65 volunteer members, 25 of which are regulars, and the team recruits in Vernon every two years.

Nairn, ever humble, touted her entire team after being named a recipient of the Community Award.

“I really feel that I’m just one component of the team and that we all work together, and everybody is an important cog in that wheel.”

Asked what makes her a good leader, Nairn said she always tries to emulate a professional standard, and enjoys mentoring new members of the team.

She says the community is “incredibly supportive” of VSAR.

“Not every team has that support of their community, so I think I am where I am in part because of the great community that I try and serve.”

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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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