Some would say it’s quite a leap from a career in information technology (I.T.) to marine mechanics and search and rescue, but for Max Erwin, it’s just part of maturing and his life experience.
“I think at a young age, you don’t necessarily really know what you want to do,” Erwin said. “I think people’s lives are always evolving and changing. So I think I appreciated that working with my hands and being a bit more physical was important to me.”
The 32-year-old apprentice mechanic was taken on at Bridgeview Marine after working on water vessels with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, where he spends his free time volunteering. During his apprenticeship, he voyaged down south in his own sailboat to complete six month back-to-back in class courses
Max has lived in Prince Rupert for just under five years arriving in the coastal city from Haida Gwaii. He grew up in Vernon and moved to the Lower Mainland when he was 18 to study I.T. at The British Columbia Institute of Technology. After graduating, he kept his skills sharp, working as an I.T. manager at The House of Knives.
He took a break from I.T. to travel to India for six months, gaining a good perspective on the world. As a young person, budget adventuring with a friend, they travelled light backpacking around the country, using trains and busses to get from city to city. They travelled from Kashmir in the north all the way to the southern tip staying in guesthouses along the way.
“It was an eye-opening experience, just really appreciating how good we have it here in Canada. Especially, here in B.C. we have a lot of space,” he said.
Once back in the true north, Max moved careers when a friend hooked him up with a job opportunity at an Australian American mining company specializing in mill relining.
“Basically rock crushing machines. Think of it like a big, giant tumble-dryer filled with cannonballs. The rock gets pumped into them, then it spins around and it breaks the rock into smaller bits,” he explained.
The job took him travelling again. This time to all over B.C., Eastern Canada, and to South American countries such as Uruguay and Suriname. Then came production logging, where he started in heli-logging, building helipads and felling trees. That led him to four years in Haida Gwaii.
“I found it really refreshing. It was probably the most remote place I’ve worked,” he said. “I really enjoyed the kind of the sense of community feel when you’re in a smaller community.”
Max said while it may not always feel like it, people do rely on each other in smaller communities at face value. He was based in Queen Charlotte for most of his time, with postings in Masset and Sandspit.
While on Haida Gwaii in Massett and looking to become involved with the community, he became a volunteer fire department member in 2018.
“They were looking for people, and it seemed like a valuable volunteer pursuit,” he said, adding that skills he had learned from the logging industry, like first aid, were transferrable. While many of the calls in Haida Gwaii were medically related, there was one major incident where two houses caught fire in the middle of the night. Squads from neighbouring communities assisted the six-member Masset crew.
“It felt pretty chaotic at the time. I think given small communities, it’s kind of rare to have those events, so everyone was maybe a little overwhelmed at the time — in the moment.” He said thankfully no one was injured.
“It felt good to respond to an emergency and just know that those services are important and needed in the community.”
“I think it taught me the importance of teamwork and coming together in stressful situations. You really need to come together and coordinate [in emergencies] … not just teamwork within your own group but with other organizations and other response crews as well.”
He said volunteering with the Prince Rupert Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) is the same premise of teamwork as they work closely with the Coast Guard, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, West Coast Marine Response (spill response) and other emergency services. The RCMSAR was known as the Coast Guard Auxiliary before a name change a few years ago.
Max was recently awarded the CEO Award of Excellence in recognition of the hundreds of hours he has given to the RCMSAR maintaining the two vessels docked at Rushbrook Floats. He’s there most weekends completing mechanical checks and ensuring the engines run smoothly.
He’s proud of the work he does and especially the “Kids Don’t Float” stations that he has been part of establishing. Two life jacket loaner stations were built last year in Port Edward, and there are two more stations in Prince Rupert at Rushbrook and Cowbay. Personal floatation devices (PFDs) are available on a good-faith system to ensure youth are kept safe while out on the water.
He said under ideal circumstances there are between six and nine PFD’s at each station. However, this year there have been supply issues, and COVID-19 fallout has resulted in a shortage of the safety devices.
Erwin volunteers with just over 16 active Prince Rupert RCM SAR members in the local branch, which is currently recruiting new members. Other RCM SAR teams are based in various locations like Masset, Lax Kw’alaams, Kitimat, among others. Search and Rescue is great for supporting its new members to obtain the certificates like first aid and radio operations, he said.
The mission statement for RCM SAR is a simple one, he said, “It’s Saving Lives on the Water.”
“Being in the RCM SAR is not just about going out and rescuing people, but it’s also about boater safety and trying to educate people being safe on the water, making good decisions and being prepared regardless of what you are doing,” he said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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