A New Direction… being a probationary Mountain Rescue Volunteer
“As the Land-rover climbed slowly over the boulders on the track, I was glad of the hand-hold above the door. Fingers tightly gripping the handle to stop too much movement, my head occasionally bouncing off my forearm rather than the glass in the window, I felt the excitement and the tension of what I was now a part of. Looking over my right shoulder, across the ever-darkening valley I could just make out the lights of one of the other vehicles as it too wound its way up to its predetermined position to act as relay station for the communications gear. All the while, the radio chatter giving snippets of information for the task in hand as the leader briefed us on what was happening.
I have travelled like this many times before, years ago as part of a Sabre Squadron on exercise, but not this day; this day was different. This was no exercise, and as Solihull’s finest battled with the ancient track-bed, lurching from side to side on an old drovers’ route that is interesting enough as a footpath, let alone as the conduit to get us, five plus gear, to the RV, the feeling of excitement and tension began to be displaced by the fear of being the ‘noobie’; of not wanting to screw up, not wanting to let the team down, let myself down.
This was it. This was my first time on the hill as part of the Search and Rescue team.
This was real…
90 minutes before, I had just sat down to watch a Harry Potter film. As I relaxed contemplating a beer as the opening credits rolled, I heard the unmistakable sound of the SARCALL SMS tone.
I read recently that you volunteer to be a Mountain Rescue team member, but that is where the volunteering ends. The call comes through and you answer it if you can; it’s not a game, it’s not a hobby. Someone is out there that is in need of help. You don’t look out of the window and think that it’s raining too heavily, or you’d rather sit and watch the film. That’s not why you joined. It’s not about being a hero, it’s about helping, being there. I’ve been on the other end, and I know the feeling of seeing those who can help appear out of the mist. This is why I joined.
Arriving at base, I am tasked by one of the deputy team leaders. Straight onto the Mountain. This is it. The first two call-outs I have been on, I have been ‘2 IC – Brooms and Tea‘ whilst other team members went out, but this is now my first real deployment.
And off we go. Off through the village, off through the farm, off the tarmac! Off onto the old drovers’ road and up the side of the hill, off to join with Mobile 1 which went up with the advance party sometime earlier.
Time goes quickly. I watch as others, many years more proficient, fall into routine and I wonder if I will be of more use than ornament. No need to worry, my task is to carry half a Bell Stretcher, the ‘friend of the probationer’, to which my own gear is then strapped.
Then we are off on foot. It is now dusk and the light is fading rapidly.
Lesson 1. Don’t forget to get the head torch from the top of your bergen before you get loaded up like one of those pack horses from centuries past…
The colour has now drained from the landscape to be replaced by the shades of grey that come with the developing night vision. Distant lights from farms and villages appear as people go about their business, unaware of what is happening not far from their kitchens.
We have a grid reference for the casualty. We now know where they are, and the position is confirmed by the presence of the regional Police Helicopter who located the party and is now hovering, holding station, acting as that initial beacon of hope for those who we are searching for.
But that is still 2 kilometres away. Two kilometres of path, peat bog, rocky outcrops, streams, steep drops and holes underfoot just waiting to grab your boot and break your ankle. And it is getting really dark now.
A stop for a kit carry change at around the half way mark, a chance to retrieve the torch. Then we are off again, searching in the dark for the lights of the party.
No longer on any discernible path, the four of us have now spotted the lights and we are off-piste, the pace having quickened. News that the Coastguard helicopter is en route means we now have to move quickly. Care though, these groughs are deep, the sides slippery and the last thing you want is to go head first into the peat…
Finally on site with the casualty and the advance party, the cas-carers have already stabilised the injury, and have taken care of the rest of the party. The rest of us go into the holding area, waiting to be tasked. The idea of a stretcher carry-off returning along thatsame route is not one that fills the soul with joy, so the sound of the approaching helicopter is music to our ears. But no time to enjoy the sight of the beast approaching, now is the time to assemble the stretcher, remembering the lessons and exercises that we have done.
Lesson 2. Wear gloves when linking the two halves, the clips when swinging into place can do you an injury, somewhat defeating the “don’t become a casualty yourself” maxim…
New orders. We are to stretcher the casualty to the waiting helicopter. The initial “across that?!”, as I look across the grough to our front, all the while being buffeted from the now-landed helicopter’s idling down-draft, dissipates as the training kicks in again. The casualty is loaded and off we go.
And yes it is slippery.
And yes it is dark.
And yes it is difficult to move when you have a hurricane trying to lift you off your feet.
And then we are there, by the open door of the helicopter, loading the stretcher onboard before retreating whilst we wait for the return of the stretcher.
Doors close, the engine winds up, the wind strength increases and you feel the thing lift off. Moments later and there are just flashing lights fading away into the distance. The noise levels drop and you can once again hear yourself think.
Hill gear packed away, now back with half a stretcher on my back and we are off, back across the top, back into the darkness, back past the weird outcrops that loom out of the depths of the night. Light of foot this time knowing we have done our job, and with the adrenaline that comes with that; the way back seems shorter; the pack and the stretcher seem lighter. Maybe it’s because for me, that’s it, that’s my first rescue. To the rest of the team, it’s just another night on the hill, but to me it is special.
A bumpy ride back to base, vehicles unpacked, replacement gear loaded back in ready for the next call, the debrief and the first chance to take a drink from the flask and it is all over. We depart, each heading away in the early hours, knowing the morning alarm will go off way too soon, and work will beckon.
I stumble into bed far too late, but still full of the feeling of having achieved something useful for once.
This new direction in life is one to hold onto.”
Mountain rescue in the UK is provided entirely free-of-charge by unpaid volunteers giving up their time to train, fund-raise and attend call-outs, which may be helping people lost or injured in hilly terrain, helping the Ambulance Service in hard-to-reach locations or helping the Police to search for missing persons in urban and lowland areas.
Teams’ running costs for equipment and vehicles are met entirely through public donations. If you would like to support Kinder Mountain Rescue Team, please visit our web-site at www.kmrt.org.uk/fundraising/other-ways-to-give/.