The search for missing Cache Creek fire chief Clayton Cassidy will continue through the weekend, with Kamloops Search and Rescue personnel returning to assist members of the Cache Creek Fire Department (CCFD), Kamloops Fire Rescue (KFR), and local volunteers who have been searching along Cache Creek, the Bonaparte River, and the Thompson River since last Friday.
Cassidy disappeared in the vicinity of the Brookside Campground sometime after 3:30 a.m. on Friday, May 5 while checking water levels around the village following flooding the evening before. The fire department crew cab was spotted idling beside Cache Creek at around 7 a.m., and Ashcroft RCMP and Kamloops Search and Rescue were notified.
The searchers are operating out of a volunteer command centre that has been set up at the Cache Creek fire hall, under the supervision of Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department (AVFD) fire chief Josh White, the incident commander. He is being assisted by AVFD captain Nancy Duchaine.
“The Ashcroft fire department mandate right now is to lighten the load for the Cache Creek firefighters,” says White. “We volunteered to take on the role, and they accepted. Anything we can do to help.”
Tom Moe, the acting CCFD chief, and CCFD 2nd assistant chief Gord Dafoe, are both part of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) team, and are taking part in the search, along with other Cache Creek firefighters. Even though Ashcroft firefighters were eager to assist the search efforts, White has asked them to stay in town.
“The Ashcroft fire department is serving both villages for fire protection right now,” says White. It means that Cache Creek firefighters taking part in the search do not have to be worried about being rested in case of a fire call.
White says that an EOC was set up at the Cache Creek Community Hall on Sunday, May 7, and that Gerry Wong—the coordinator of the emergency response teams at Teck Highland Valley Copper—helped set up the volunteer command centre at the fire hall. All week the centre has hummed with activity, beginning at 7:30 each morning, when coordinators, volunteers, and the EOC team—White, Moe, Gord Dafoe, Cache Creek CAO and emergency program coordinator Keir Gervais, RCMP Sgt. Kathleen Thain, Cache Creek emergency social services coordinator Lisa Dafoe, and Alan Hobler of Kamloops Search and Rescue—meet to plan the day.
“We work with the skills of off-duty members of Kamloops Fire Rescue and discuss what high-hazard areas we can put them into, since they are highly trained,” says White. “We do pre-planning, set goals for the day, get briefed on weather events, and do a safety briefing with the volunteers.” Teams of no fewer than two people are then sent to various sites, with the teams reporting in when they reach their site, then reporting in every hour. “If they’re still out after three hours, we ask them to come back in.”
KFR personnel have been searching one of the most difficult stretches of terrain, along the Bonaparte River from Boston Flats to the Thompson River. “People with that level of training are put in the more dangerous areas,” says White. If they have enough people, two teams of four people each search from opposite ends of that stretch of river, although White says that on Friday, May 12 one team of four people worked the entire stretch from west to east.
Search times are staggered, so that teams can return to the command centre for food and rest while another team goes out in their place. Volunteers who want to help but who are unable to do ground searches are able to do bridge watch duty at the various bridges over Cache Creek and the Bonaparte River.
Searchers are all equipped with tagging tape, and tag any sites where something looks out of the ordinary, then photograph the site and relay the picture to the command centre. Maps at the centre show what areas have been searched on a given day, with annotations regarding log jams or hazards.
A section of map showing Cache Creek.
A steady supply of food and beverages have been arriving at the command centre, provided by local businesses, restaurants, individuals, and families. White says that help has arrived from even further afield. His wife was shopping at Costco in Kamloops, picking up a cart-full of energy and granola bars for the volunteers.
“The cashier asked what she needed them for,” says White. She explained, and the cashier went to get the store manager, who came back and said there was no charge.
White singles out the ladies who have been preparing food and ensuring that the volunteers are well-fed, such as Lisa Dafoe, Sue Peters, and Kacey Boettger. "They keep asking ‘Are you eating?’ These long days couldn’t be done without them.”
Jenn Eaton, Laura Elliott, and Karen Farmer are acting as command support: answering phones, signing volunteers in and out to ensure everyone's whereabouts are monitored, and logging all activity. At the end of each day there is a debriefing session with the volunteers and the EOC members, reviewing what was accomplished that day, and what has come up that can be acted on during the next day.
White says that Ashcroft detachment commander Kathleen Thain has been a huge presence in Cache Creek over the last week. “She has been so awesome.” And he says that “high praise is due to acting Cache Creek fire chief Tom Moe, Gord Dafoe, and the rest of the Cache Creek fire department.
“I know they would do the same for us. We’re here to help as best we can. Clayton is our brother, and we want to bring him home.”