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Tim Jones, the face of B.C. search and rescue, remembered as heroic leader

Tim Jones, a North Shore Rescue team leader, at the team’s North Shore base on August 12, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The first time Tim Jones spotted the backpackers bothered him enough: Two young men, trudging through Hanes Valley on the North Shore with nothing but backpacks and a pair of snowshoes when they should have had crampons, ice axes, helmets and a range of other technical mountaineering gear. But it was the second time that really upset the long-time North Shore Rescue leader.

It was early January and the team had been searching the backcountry area on an unrelated matter when members came across the two men, both in their 20s. Concerned for their safety, Mr. Jones dropped a three-man flight team down to explicitly warn them not to go any farther. The backpackers agreed to camp in place, but when Mr. Jones later checked on them, he spotted them ascending Crown Mountain.

"They went and did exactly what we told them not to and put themselves at incredible risk," Mr. Jones told The Globe and Mail the day after. "This was the first time I've ever done this: I phoned both their parents and I'm very pleased to report their parents were beside themselves."

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Those who know Mr. Jones would not be surprised he went out of his way to ensure the safety of others. On Monday, a day after his sudden death on Mount Seymour, tributes poured in for the 57-year-old, with many people hailing him as a hero.

Mr. Jones had hosted a group from Mountain Equipment Co-op at a team cabin and was heading back to the parking lot – about a 35-minute walk – on Sunday evening when he suddenly collapsed, said North Vancouver Fire Chief Dan Pistilli. "He made the comment of, 'Hey guys, hang on a sec,' or something to that effect, and collapsed right on the spot," said Chief Pistilli, a friend and colleague of 25 years. "He was there with his daughter and one of our North Vancouver city firefighters."

It is believed Mr. Jones died from a heart attack, although the cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Seymour patrol, BC Ambulance Service, RCMP, firefighters and staff from Lions Gate Hospital "put in a massive effort to save Tim but unfortunately he did not come through," NSR team member John Blown said in a post to the team's Facebook page.

Mr. Jones is survived by his wife and two adult children. His son, Curtis Jones, has worked as a search-and-rescue member for NSR for nearly a decade.

On Monday, the younger Mr. Jones posted to Facebook a photo of the two together in a helicopter, with the description: "[Helicopter External Transport System] call to Pitt Lake. Me and the old man saving lives. Gonna miss you dad."

Mr. Jones, who worked as an advanced life support paramedic for 32 years and volunteered with NSR for 26, is credited with saving countless lives in his lengthy career. He was known by many for his no-nonsense attitude and eagerness to help. B.C. Premier Christy Clark said he represented the North Shore, and British Columbia, at its absolute best. "He dedicated the best part of his life to helping people in the worst moment of theirs," Ms. Clark said in a statement issued Monday.

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"North Shore Rescue was a full-time, often dangerous job – which makes it all the more amazing that it was voluntary. On his own, Tim built one of North America's most innovative and successful search-and-rescue teams. To date, they have found over 1,000 people and saved dozens of lives."

Mr. Jones received the Order of British Columbia in 2011. A government website about the order noted Mr. Jones had participated in more than 1,400 search-and-rescue tasks at that point and that a 50-hour volunteer week was not uncommon for him. He also helped raise more than a million dollars to fund the team's work. "I can think of no one who deserved it more," Ms. Clark said in Monday's statement.

Mr. Jones and his team were opposed to the idea of charging for rescues, fearing subjects in need may then put off calls for help, thereby increasing the risk. Instead, Mr. Jones encouraged people to take mountaineering courses so they could fully appreciate the back country.

North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, whom Mr. Jones trained as an emergency medical attendant in the early 1980s, remembered him as a "caring, compassionate man" who was driven by a passion to help others. "Tim worked hard and he put a tremendous amount of volunteer time into NSR," Mr. Mussatto said. "And then, he was very caring to his wife and two kids. He, I think, regretted a little bit the time he spent away from his family.The tragedy is that he was probably going to try and spend more time with them as he was winding his career down with the Ambulance Service."

On his LinkedIn page, Mr. Jones wrote that he dedicated his life to become a helicopter rescue co-ordinator. "Outside this I have only one aspiration after this and that is to pay back my wife for lost time," he wrote.

A service in celebration of Mr. Jones' life is being planned for Saturday at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver.

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Follow me on Twitter: @AndreaWoo

Team leader Tim Jones died suddenly late Sunday, causing an outpouring of grief and condolences on social media.

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