BRITISH COLUMBIA

North Shore Rescue Team leader Tim Jones dies suddenly on Mount Seymour

01/20/2014 07:59 EST | Updated 03/22/2014 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - It seems that just about anyone who encountered Tim Jones has an inspirational story to tell.

The tireless spokesman for backcountry safety on Vancouver's North Shore mountains, whose love of the outdoors was rivalled only by his passion for helping others survive it, died suddenly on Sunday.

The leader of the North Shore Rescue team suffered a medical emergency on a trail he had walked countless times on Mount Seymour. He was 57 years old.

"Tim was an amazing boss, mentor, colleague, husband and friend," said his son Curtis Jones Monday evening. "But most importantly, he was the best father any son or daughter could have asked for."

North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto remembers one day 15 or 20 years ago, when he hiked up the twin peaks known as The Lions with Jones and several others. To get to the top, the group had to first get past a tricky section of exposed rock.

"And Tim made me go. He made me get out there and do it," said Mussatto.

"He said, 'You know you can do it ... You know, you only got 300 feet below you if you miss, so don't screw up.'"

So Mussatto climbed. Thinking back, he says he probably should have put on some protective gear.

"Today (Jones) would never do that. He'd say you gotta have a rope and a harness on to make sure in case you slip, you've got a harness to catch you."

But the mayor, who trained as a paramedic with Jones 30 years ago, says he is certain if he had fallen, Jones would have gone down after him.

"Tim's the kind of guy that if you're out lost, and they can only send one person in to rescue you in the middle of winter in minus 40 degrees with wind blowing, he's the guy you'd pick. He's the guy you'd count on to get you out of trouble."

A release posted on North Shore Rescue's website says Jones died on the trail of one of the mountains where he has led countless rescues with the high-profile, volunteer team.

Mussatto said Jones had taken a group of people up to the organization's cabin and was heading down when he collapsed. His daughter was with him.

Despite the efforts of many first responders, he could not be revived.

Jones had pursued a teaching career before becoming a paramedic in 1982. He ran the ambulance station in North Vancouver for many years, and spent his hours off leading a team of roughly 40 people at North Shore Rescue.

Over his 25 years with the organization, Jones participated in more than 1,400 operations, plucking stranded hikers out of dark gullies and rescuing skiers and snowboarders who went out of bounds or who were swept up by avalanches.

It is Jones' commitment to getting people out — dead or alive — that has garnered the respect of the police and other first responders.

"All first responders I work with on the North Shore, probably everybody has got a Tim Jones' story of one form or another," said Const. Jeff Palmer with West Vancouver Police.

"I have been on calls with him as a paramedic, involved in searches and involved in general community activities, and he was just so committed and so passionate about all the work and tasks that he took on."

To those who knew him, Jones' dedication was unmatched. Even when he was ill, he operated from his bed at home, said Don Bindon, president of the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association.

"He's speaking to me on one line, he's on his cellphone on the other line, and he's talking on the radio at the same time for operations," Bindon recalled.

"I thought, here you are, having to be bedridden and you're still doing your work no matter what it took to get it done."

Bindon said Jones was instrumental in the province's adoption of helicopter-based rescue, which shortened what would normally be a four or five-hour trek out of the wilderness to as short as 30 minutes.

Premier Christy Clark said in a written statement that Jones, an Order of B.C. recipient, will be missed.

"Tim represented the North Shore and B.C. at our absolute best. He dedicated the best part of his life to helping people in the worst moment of theirs — Tim's North Shore Rescue team often meant the difference between life and death."

Opposition NDP leader Adrian Dix said Jones' bravery and his work educating people about wilderness safety has saved many lives.

"The thousands of hours he volunteered have made this province a safer place, and his life stands as an inspiring example of the potential in all of us to make our world better."

Despite the countless rescues and now his own tragic death on the mountains, Jones would never tell people to shy away from the outdoors — as long as they're prepared, Mussatto said.

"He'd be the first to say, 'Don't let that deter you. Get outside, get out there and be happy.'"

Mussatto said Jones had been putting together a succession plan prior to his death. Perhaps the man was planning to retire, but he was worried that no one would put in the volunteer hours that he did.

"He was aiming to start a legacy fund or an endowment fund to maybe help pay for a person to organize all the gear, all the stuff that has to be done at the rescue team's base," said Mussatto.

Jones said he knew there was plenty of work to be done before he left the job.

"Outside this I have only one aspiration after this and that is to pay back my wife for time lost," he said on his LinkedIn profile.

Jones is survived by his wife and two children. A service to celebrate Jones' life is expected to take place on Saturday at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre.

(News 1130)