WEM Faculty share what it means to be part of a Mountain Rescue Team
The mountains were once the domain of farmers, shepherds, road builders and quarrymen. There for necessity, rather than pleasure, the harsh surroundings acted as a constant reminder severe injury on the hills would most likely result in death. Despite best efforts and good intentions ad-hoc, makeshift rescue by members of the local community, over difficult terrain, was far removed from the 21st Century Mountain Rescue service we are now familiar with.
It wasn’t until the birth of modern mountaineering in the late 18th Century when walking and climbing became a past-time of the rich, rather than a chore of labourers, that organised mountain rescue was even conceptualised. Yet, it took a fatal accident in the Peak District during 1928 to formulate the structured teams we rely on today.
Hidden among World Extreme Medicine Faculty, and the medical professionals you serve with, are the exceptional volunteers that transition their skill-set from a traditional medical setting to a challenging, outdoor environment.
The first thing I always say is, “I’m Jamie from Mountain Rescue, I’m here to help you”. I try to make sure we keep them informed, “There’s going to be a bit of noise as we get close to the helicopter, it’ll be a little bumpy as we move you, I’ll be at your left shoulder the whole time though”.
I’ve been part of countless incidents, some with positive outcomes, some not. Every time we get called out the stark reality of the situation is always on my mind, going to the aid of someone who, but for the grace of good fortune, could easily have been me. There is a huge sense of pride when we get the job done, I’m not ashamed to admit the high fives and buzz after a successful rescue. And, as the Medical Officer, responsible for ensuring the medics of our team are well-equipped, competent and confident, the sense of pride and reward when the team comes together is second to none.
We are called out in the harshest of conditions; long hours in the cold, wet and darkness. The risk to ourselves, while mindfully managed, is nevertheless a feature of the work. Every single member of the team cares, and it is that vulnerability that enables us to give our all when required, both for the casualty and for the team. Mountain Rescue is a family and the bond that you forge with each other, over the hours of training and live operations, is one of the closest I have ever experienced. Ultimately, this is what makes my role so rewarding, overcoming the challenges and obstacles to get the best outcome for the person. Mountain Rescue has given me the career, friends and experiences that shaped who I am.
When you finish the job and are having a cup of tea back on base, knowing each other performed during a difficult rescue, the bond is formed. It gets stronger and stronger the more time you spend on the mountains. Respect, admiration, camaraderie.
Adversity brings people together in a way you only get from the most difficult of experiences. Mountain Rescue offers that type of experience; looking after yourself and the casualty in an austere environment, post-avalanche or white-out is a good example. The challenge. You’ve got to have your mate’s backs and you have to know they have yours. The trust. When you get the call there’s a little niggle of fear and excitement, no outcome is certain when you head out, everything plays out in real-time and you have to respond because people are relying on you. The responsibility. Every decision you take has an impact on the result but it’s a pressure you secretly enjoy which is one of the pulls of this job. We’re so fortunate in the U.K that we can go into the mountains knowing there are a group of professionals willing to give up their time to help us, to be part of that is a great privilege.
01 January 1993 I had my first introduction to Mountain Rescue the hard way. I fell climbing, plummeting into a waterfall plunge pool. I woke up wet, in pain, and bloodied. I looked around, my climbing partner suffered massive facial trauma, his helmet split in two. I opened my backpack, grasped for the whistle and started to blow the emergency distress signal. I’m still friends with the Mountain Rescue called to my location that day, I was the 4th incident they dealt with, they inspired me to join.
It was exciting, I was 20 years old and getting to know my team who were all like-minded climbers and mountaineers. I got invited to engagement parties, weddings and birthday parties, treated like a member of their families. Mountain Rescue is a fraternity and often teams are made up of multiple medical professionals, at one point 12 of us worked together in the mountains and also the same hospital.
Yet, despite experience, the worst outcomes never fail to touch you. We got a call to a fallen climber on a crag very local to where we were. Within 20 minutes we were on scene, within 21 minutes I was doing everything I could as a 4-year qualified senior staff nurse to save a young climber’s life. The Sea King helicopter arrived and whisked us off to the hospital where I worked in A&E. I handed the casualty over, but after a time the young climber was pronounced dead. The sister on duty put her arms around me and said, “You’re going to help me clean this young man up and prepare his last offices as part of your grieving process”. Afterwards, we had a debrief as a team in the local pub. Later, over the following weeks, I was called regularly to make sure I was OK. That’s what happens on Mountain Rescue, you look out and after each other. It’s more than just rescuing people, it’s more than a team… it’s a family, a big family with a huge heart.
How to Volunteer for your local Mountain Rescue Service
There are many ways to support your local Mountain Rescue from being a part of operations to fundraising. Even an hour or two a week makes a huge difference.
Mountain Rescue England and Wales: www.mountain.rescue.org.uk/how-to-volunteer/
Mountain Rescue Scotland: www.scottishmountainrescue.org
Mountain Rescue Northern Ireland: www.communityrescue.org/about-us/
If Mountain Rescue isn’t your bag other volunteer emergency services include the Royal National Lifeboat Institute: RNLI lifeguards and lifeboat crew, (https://rnli.org/support-us/volunteer/how-you-can-volunteer), Coastguard Service (www.gov.uk/volunteer-as-a-coastguard/what-to-expect-as-a-volunteer), and fire service (www.fireservice.co.uk/recruitment/retained-firefighters/).
Up-skill to Volunteer for Mountain Rescue
To apply for volunteer positions the following core skills courses may be a useful addition to your portfolio:
Expedition and Wilderness Medicine (Keswick, Plas Y Brenin, Corfe Castle and Slovenia): www.worldextrememedicine.com/products/all-courses/
Ocean Medicine (Plymouth): www.worldextrememedicine.com/products/all-courses/