Jamie Turko – swiftwater rescue specialist, river guide and outdoorsman
Jamie Turko knows he’s in the news a lot. He insists he doesn’t seek attention and to be honest, we contacted him regarding this profile article.
“I’m not a hero. I’m not famous. I’m infamous,” he says.
Some folks might disagree with his comment about heroism. In addition to owning Destiny River Adventures, he is a highly trained and experienced swiftwater river rescue technician who sometimes risks his life to save others.
Born in the Comox Valley, he moved with his strict Ukrainian parents to Campbell River when he was two. His single sibling is a younger brother.
“My family was basically a mill family; they worked in the pulp mill with the lumber mill … we’re an industrial family.”
A lumber mill job was not for Jamie, however.
“I got fired from my job and after that I basically started seeking my passion and got into the outdoor world – outdoor tourism, outdoor adventure.”
That was no surprise, considering his father and grandfather were avid outdoorsmen. His grandfather, who loved fishing, instilled that in young Jamie. “I caught fish the same size as me, from cod to salmon.”
His father was a hunter, further ensuring his son would spend time outdoors and grow to love it.
After leaving the lumber mill, Turko worked for six years with Campbell River Snorkel Tours, then joined Destiny River Adventures in 1999.
“I got fully certified as a British Columbia river outfitters rafting guide.”
Taking some time out to “get some of that oil money that was out there” in Alberta, Turko would work on the oil patch in the fall and winter, returning to Campbell River for the spring and summer to enjoy the outdoors.
After five or six years of that, he “fully committed to being back home. I didn’t want to be in Alberta anymore. I wanted to be here with family; my kids were getting older.”
Returning to Destiny River Adventures, he bought the company in 2011 when the owners wanted to sell.
“I was honoured that they thought I was the one who could take over.”
He got into Campbell River Search and Rescue in 1996, “knowing these guys are all about outdoors.”
Showing up at a training night, he soon learned that he needed certification.
He did what he had to do, and has been in search and rescue (SAR) for 19 years. The amount of time he volunteers depends partially on the time of year.
“It varies with each month because when it’s rafting season, I focus on Destiny River.”
He’s learned a lot in 19 years about rescuing people, and teaching others how to do it.
“I’m a rope rescue team member. I’m also a swiftwater rescue instructor. Of course, that’s my specialty, the water. I’ve become a search and rescue ground team leader.
“I’m also a ground search and rescue instructor, being one of the instructors when new people come into the group.”
Some of his many other certificates qualify him to operate ATVs and emergency vehicles.
It’s rewarding to rescue people, sometimes saving lives, although Turko says he’s paying back in gratitude for all the training he’s received.
“It’s not that it’s rewarding; it’s giving back to the community.”
Priorities for SAR volunteers are important, Turko notes.
“We’re all volunteers; we all have our lives; we all have our families; we all have work.”
Turko’s priorities begin with his family.
The 43-year-old and his wife Darlene head a blended family that includes his 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter as well as her three children, aged five, six and 10.
Priority No. 2 is his job, although search and rescue and working with “a group of amazingly talented people” is clearly an important part of Turko’s life.
“I may not be able to respond to all of the calls, but when I can respond, I’m there 100 per cent for that person, for that group, for that family to get them back home to their family safely in a professional manner.”
He has responded to 19 body recoveries in the past 19 years.
“When you’re out in the environment, things happen in a flash. Some people can get themselves out of that situation; some people can’t. That’s where search and rescue comes in.”
How frustrated does he get with people whose lack of preparation and common sense puts them in danger?
“I don’t get frustrated with that,” he replies. “People are weekend warriors. They have certain passions in life and they want to experience it but they don’t know how to get out … when things go sideways.”
Turko finds it difficult to be critical when others screw up.
“We’re all human. We all make mistakes. I’m the biggest mistake-maker in my whole life. I have learned the hardest ways when I’ve done something wrong and it comes back and kicks me in the ass, and it takes me down. I’m no better than anybody else. I don’t want to be anybody else. I don’t want to be perfect.”
“I know a lot of people claim to be perfect. There is no perfect person out there. We all make mistakes. If we can learn from them, and make ourselves a better person, then it can be positive.”