VANCOUVER — For many people who feared for their lives after becoming injured or lost in the wilderness of British Columbia’s North Shore mountains, the sight of Tim Jones and his rescue team meant survival.
Sébastien Boucher, for one, had spent three desperate days stranded on Cypress Mountain eating nothing but snow after he snowboarded out of bounds in December, 2012. The team finally spotted him and airlifted him to safety after finding his tracks.
Mr. Jones’s team also saved Chris Morley, a snowshoer who tumbled down a gulley on Mount Seymour in January, 2007. He had broken bones, was suffering from hypothermia and bleeding badly when he saw Tim Jones and another rescuer coming toward him. The two men illuminated by headlamps were “visions of light,” he later told a reporter.
Rosemary Gander, whose son Phillip fell more than 300 metres down Mount Seymour, speaks of the close friendship she and her family developed with the North Shore Rescue (NSR) team leader after he saved the unconscious teen’s life in February, 1996.
“You think you’re in a unique situation,” Ms. Gander said, “and then you see there are 1,000 other people, at least, who are probably in the same position.”
In the days following the 57-year-old’s sudden death from an apparent heart attack on Jan. 19, NSR’s Facebook page filled up with stories posted by people he had rescued and worked with, as well as those who had simply felt comfort in knowing he was there should anything go wrong.
Mr. Jones worked as a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service for 32 years, but is best known for the 26 years he spent as an unpaid volunteer with NSR. He is credited with building the team into one of North America’s finest – introducing helicopter long-line rescues, developing an area-wide communication system and raising more than $1-million to fund the team’s work – all while saving many lives.
When Mr. Jones was awarded the Order of B.C. in 2011, it was noted he had participated in more than 1,400 search-and-rescue tasks, his team locating more than 1,000 people – all on a volunteer basis.
Friends and colleagues affectionately describe the burly outdoorsman as a no-nonsense, drill-sergeant-type leader, not particularly concerned with being politically correct. He often referred to teammates as “lunkheads” and “knuckle draggers,” and used colourful analogies in media interviews – phrases that North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, a long-time friend of Mr. Jones, dubbed “Timisms.” Mr. Jones once compared a hiker venturing into dangerous terrain to “a Tomahawk missile on the loose without its guidance system working,” Mr. Mussatto recalled with a chuckle.
The reaction to Mr. Jones’s death reflected the magnitude of his impact: Flags at municipal buildings were lowered to half-mast. The Vancouver Canucks held a moment of silence before their game against the Nashville Predators. A memorial fund quickly raised tens of thousands of dollars. B.C. Premier Christy Clark issued a statement saying Mr. Jones “represented the North Shore and B.C. at our absolute best.”
At a massive public memorial held a week after he died, thousands lined the street to pay their respects as helicopters flew overhead and a procession of local and visiting paramedics, search-and-rescue team members, police officers and military personnel wound through the streets of North Vancouver.
Attendance was so great that the event – which resembled a state funeral – spilled out into a theatre parking lot, where a large screen was set up.
In a statement read by North Vancouver MP Andrew Saxton, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Mr. Jones “an exemplar of the valour demonstrated by these everyday heroes.”
Other searchers said Mr. Jones was the one they would want looking for them if they ever got into trouble. In emergency situations, close friends called him before dialling 911.
Tim Jones was born on May 30, 1956, in Edmonton, the third child of Owen and Mary Jones. In 1962, the family moved to North Vancouver, where Mr. Jones spent countless hours exploring the area’s logging trails, canyons and creeks, developing what would become a lifelong love of the outdoors.
At Handsworth Secondary School, he was introduced to football – a sport that his friend and fellow paramedic Ross Hallaway said became an “all-consuming passion.” On a full scholarship, Mr. Jones continued playing, as a centre for the Simon Fraser University Clan, while earning a bachelor of arts degree in geography. In 1978, he was drafted by the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts in the fifth round. He played for part of a year before a knee injury forced him to stop.
Soon after, Mr. Jones returned to SFU for its professional development program, going on to work briefly as a football coach and physical education teacher – something he enjoyed, but didn’t quite love, friends and family members say.
It wouldn’t be until a few years later, in his mid-20s, that Mr. Jones would find his calling: After taking industrial first-aid training and working as a first-aid attendant at a sawmill, he began doing ride-alongs with a couple of paramedic friends in West Vancouver. That piqued his interest. Mr. Jones worked as a paramedic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, earned his Advanced Life Support diploma from the Justice Institute of B.C., and eventually became paramedic-in-charge at the BC Ambulance Service in North Vancouver.
At a New Year’s Eve party in 1981, Mr. Jones met Lindsay Dougans. “By the end of the evening, Tim was twirling his future wife above his head on the dance floor,” Mr. Hallaway said. The two married in 1984. Their son, Curtis, was born two years later and daughter Taylor three years after that.
The children have vivid memories of growing up at the North Shore Rescue base, which was then a small trailer before Mr. Jones’s fundraising efforts helped turn it into a $1.4-million, state-of-the-art facility. Taylor played with her Barbie dolls there while Curtis climbed equipment racks and played in the command truck.
“I even have vague memories of being taken along to a helicopter training session out at the airport,” said Curtis Jones, now a 27-year-old law student and search-and-rescue member of the NSR team. “I got to sit in the pilot’s seat while they ran through the paces in the hangar. [There’s] nothing like being a six-year-old [and] sitting in a helicopter watching your dad practise.”
The younger Mr. Jones began helping out with logistics at 13 and, by 16, accompanied his father on rescue calls. But when the weekend came, Curtis says, his father still saw him as a son first.
“He would still set a curfew for me when it was the weekend,” Curtis said. “Honestly, it was the most surreal thing. He had me going out on assignments where I’d be getting dropped off by helicopter … and then a couple days later I’d be wanting to go out with some friends to go drinking – underage drinking – and he’d say, ‘Nope, that ain’t happening.'”
If Curtis was out past his curfew, his dad would be on the phone, “calling me, worrying about me,” he remembered. And if he didn’t answer those calls, his father would show up – “because he could find me,” Curtis said.
At his father’s memorial, the younger Mr. Jones recounted a Father’s Day two years ago when their pagers alerted them to a climber who had fallen down Crown Mountain. They rushed to the scene, “rallying all the troops” along the way and were airborne within minutes of the page.
“With my dad and I at the end of the [helicopter] long line – advanced life-support paramedic and helicopter-rescue technician, father and son, rescuers – we circled the area waiting for a gap in the weather,” Curtis said. “While circling in the foggy, windy valley, dangling hundreds of feet above the canopy, I remember patting my dad on the back and saying to him, ‘Happy Father’s Day.'”
He concluded his tearful remarks with: “Dad, when the pager goes, we’ll be there.”
And they were. The day after the memorial, North Shore Rescue was called to Grouse Mountain, where eight hikers had gone missing. The team, led by Curtis, quickly found the hikers safe.