LONDON, ONT -- The London Search and Rescue Team (LSAR), a non-profit group founded in 2002 to assist police in London and surrounding areas during ground searches, had crucial equipment stolen from a secure trailer on King Street last month.

"A lot of items were taken that we would consider critical or crucial to what we do," says LSAR Deputy Chief Jamie Walls.

The items ranged from a generator, winter uniforms, a digital camera and trauma bags containing crucial medical equipment needed during a search.

Within days of that grim discovery the unit found out funding and support they relied on for the past 18 years from St. John’s Ambulance was being pulled due to the pandemic.

"Continuing to fund and support us wasn’t something they could do, it wasn’t a decision they took lightly, and it wasn’t a decision that they were aiming to have to make. Unfortunately the situation kind of made it for them," Walls says.

The loss of funding puts the team in jeopardy of ceasing operations, which London police say would be a terrible loss. "Being able to rely on the London Search and Rescue team has helped us because they are trained in that function,” says London police Insp. Bill Berg.

"They go out with the proper equipment, they know how to do grid searches and those sorts of things, so that when we do the search, we don’t miss the people we are searching for.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started by the group to help replace the stolen items, and to continue on as a not-for-profit charity.

"We’re reaching out to the community because us and our community partners understand this is important resource to have for both the city and the citizens of the city, help them stay safe and help them in times of need," Walls says.

The province doesn’t fund search and rescue teams, and insurance is the biggest funding challenge.

Walls says his members already absorb a large portion of the expenses for training. "Our members pay for the privilege of volunteering essentially. It can be a hard ask, but thankfully we have 70 dedicated people who are willing to not only hear that ask but to pony up, literally to put their money where their mouth is."

At the time this article was written the campaign was sitting at $4,000 of a $20,000 goal. Walls says the team is still training virtually due to COVID-19, but will be ready for the next time they are called on.