By Col

Amid a pandemic, teams equip heroes on mountain rescue missions, ensuring they scale peaks safely. Vital gear becomes their lifeline as they protect others.

Throughout the last few months, the corona virus outbreak has brought new pressures and challenges to our Mountain Rescue Teams, even through periods of restricted movement outdoors, as Ian Bunting, Chairman at Edale MRT explains,

“The Covid 19 pandemic has had a significant effect on how Edale Mountain Rescue Team operates. Whilst the technical requirements have not changed, casualty care, stretcher handling, searching etc. These all must be carried out considering social distancing and if not practical then relevant PPE must be worn. Unfortunately, by the nature of what we do it means that team members are near, not only the person we are assisting but also other team members. Consequently, team members have to wear PPE as outlined by government/NHS complicated by the fact that we are not working within the confines of a hospital.”

So as we ease out of lockdown from the Covid-19 pandemic then the temptation to run free is palpable, more people are feeling the draw into the open spaces and for many it may even be the first time venturing out. If we are not respectful, sensible and perhaps a little retrained initially then we risk putting our mountain rescue teams under unnecessary stain, not least to say the environmental impact (but that’s another issue).

northumberland mountain rescue

Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team

Iain Nixon, team leader at Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team are providing a vital cover for the vast 5000 sq km largely remote and unpopulated area encompassing all of Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, he has reported an increasing number of call outs over the last couple of weeks, from what was a fairly steady return after restrictions were eased.

"Since lockdown has eased it took a while before the Team’s incidents began to pick up again. However in the last week and a half, we have been deployed 6 times for a mix on incidents. One injured and one exhausted walker, two mountain bikers, and an urban search for a high risk missing male.
Like other teams, purchasing PPE has been an unplanned cost for the Team. We have had to purchase new safety glasses for all operational members because our previously issued helicopter goggles fog up too easily when wearing PPE. We also having to purchase PPE on a regular basis where this can’t be sourced through the Local Resilience Forum. Training has also restarted and this means we will be going through even more PPE."

Nick Owen team leader at Langdale Ambleside MRT reported back on how things have been going for them over in the Lakes as lockdown unfurls.

“Thankfully we’ve been relatively quiet. There have been issues in some areas with crowds, litter and poor parking but on the whole the mountain community has been very sensible, respectful and responsible... credit to them for this. We have all our preparations in place and have handled a small number of incidents and have reverently resumed training in a limited, PPE or socially distanced way. Lakes teams have pulled together brilliantly to make sure any personnel or equipment shortages can be quickly remedied and mutual support has been provided and one of our doctors has been honoured with the High Sheriff’s award for her work in scrutinising guidelines and organising and verifying PPE to make sure we can all work safely “

Ambleside langdale mountain rescue

Ambleside and Langdale MRT

Up the road into the North Lakes, Team Leader at Keswick MRT Chris Higgins explains how the risks of Covid-19 has impacted on them.

“The burden on team members' lives is not insignificant during ’normal times’. The added complexity of dealing with the virus, when any casualty or their walking partner/s, other rescuers or members of the wider emergency services may be a carrier of the disease is significant.

"In many ways we are fortunate that we operate outside - where the risks of Civid-19 transmission are lessened. However, there are times when we need to be close together - administering first-aid, carrying the stretcher or undertaking technical rope rescues and we have to wear the PPE to protect ourselves. It isn’t a very pleasant experience in the summer heat to have to wear it all, but we do in the knowledge that we are the only service that can carry out the rescues we do, in the terrain where we operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

If you are getting outdoors do it safely and stick to your capabilities. They wanted us to reiterate that they are very much encouraging everyone venturing into the fells to be Adventure Smart – so please read the advice https://www.adventuresmart.uk it may prevent someone needing to call them out.

keswick mountain rescue team

Keswick MRT

With a change in how they need to approach rescues, Ian from Edale MRT explains a little more how adapting to using PPE has made their work more challenging.

“Plastic aprons are not practical, so we are wearing waterproofs or water repellent layers as a practical alternative. Although on a summers afternoon these are not the most comfortable choice of clothing when normally a tee shirt and shorts is probably the order of the day. However, this is equipment that team members already have so other than more frequent washing, it is available. Eye protection is more problematic given goggles and glasses tend to “fog up” when people are exerting themselves carrying a stretcher. However again they are something we already carry in our kit for use when working with helicopters. The new bit of PPE we are adapting to is face masks. These are worn whenever we are within 2m of another person. We average approximately 15 people per callout and are currently attending an average of 4 callouts per week. In addition, the same rules of use apply when we are training.

The surgical masks we have to wear are one use only, so we could potentially use up to 60 masks per week at the current rate of callouts. After a callout any relevant pieces of equipment have to be returned to base to be either cleaned or quarantined depending on which is most practical. The two main effects of this are the pieces of kit not being available for the next call. However this is mitigated to an extent by the fact we do carry numerous spares should kit require quarantining. It also adds time onto the end of a callout for the team members who are carrying out the cleaning and quarantining.”

It wasn’t by accident that the Alpkit stores are so close to, and on the doorstep of, some beautiful places around the UK, which is why we feel it is important to be supporting those watching our back as we enjoy and play in these amazing places. So as things look to get busier and busier, the Alpkit Foundation is delighted to be helping the mountain rescue teams local to our stores with the added strain of PPE equipment. Edale MRT is one of the busiest in the country and the threat still real.

Here’s Ian again…

Edale Mountian REscue

Edale MRT

“What are the potential consequences for us if we do not wear the PPE or clean equipment? Of course, it is not the just the casualty that may cause a risk, it is team members themselves as well if not showing symptoms. As previously mentioned, we average 15 team members on a callout out so that means one person could transmit to 14 of their team mates who in turn could pass it on to family and colleagues.

We are therefore incredibly grateful to the Alpkit foundation for donating towards the purchase of PPE. This will enable to us to keep our supplies stocked up to provide the necessary protection for our team members and casualties."

Of course we want to get back to enjoying the outdoors, but we can’t forget those that feel the impact, including the volunteers coming to our rescue should we need it. Luckily a large majority of us admire the effort they put in. Chris at Keswick MRT signs off.

“To know we have support from the wider outdoor community and especially everyone at Alpkit is very reassuring and the additional PPE we’ll be able to buy with your grant will be much needed as things open up and we get busier.”

All mountain rescue teams rely on donations to be able to provide the services we do. Our team members give their time willingly to help people and animals who are injured, lost or in distress in and around the mountains of the Northern Lake District.”

Of course you can all help. No matter where you play around the country there’s usually a band of volunteers watching over you. So why not help by donating to your local MRT, or one that covers your favourite playground?

Edale MRT | Keswick MRT | Langdale MRT | Northumberland National Park MRT

Mountain Rescue England & Wales | Scottish Mountain Rescue

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