When I found myself hanging by a winch from a helicopter high above Humberside one cold, windy Wednesday last month, I had BAM’s Making TIME For Communities scheme to thank.
It was snowing and blowing a gale and I was certainly looking forward to getting back in the chopper. But it was an exhilarating and extremely important use of my time.
I had taken a day out from my work as design manager on a complex office project in Manchester to travel to Humberside and undertake my annual training commitment with Bristows in the new Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopters.
I joined the voluntary Mountain Rescue service in 2003 when I moved to Ramsbottom, which is close to the service’s Haslington base. Having grown up in the Lake District with a love of the outdoors, I have always been aware of the service Mountain Rescue offer and joining the team seemed a natural progression.
After two years of evening and weekend training, learning advanced first aid, navigation, technical rope work and off-road driving, I passed my assessment in 2005 and was accepted as a full time volunteer.
Being part of Mountain Rescue is a massive commitment. We are effectively an emergency service operating on the 999 call out system. I have to be on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which means an understanding wife, and an open-minded employer.
My phone can ring at 3am on a Sunday or at 3pm on a Wednesday, but there is an acceptance that work and family come first. We are able to turn calls down, but I try to respond whenever I can, and the service usually gets a response team out.
Sometimes I have to drop work to jump in the car and attend an incident on the hills, but generally my work doesn’t suffer. I know my priorities, and work pays the bills.
There are also benefits for my job from the voluntary work. It gives me a release, a group of friends and an increase in knowledge and confidence. It teaches you to remain calm under pressure, and enhances your management skills. The ability to switch from one thing to another very quickly and flexibly is also highly important on site as well as on the hills.
Each year, full team members of UK Mountain Rescue teams have to refresh their skills with regards to helicopter based search and rescue. This involves familiarization with the helicopters, emergency procedures, flight protocols and winching. This year was special, as 2015 is the year where the Air Search and Rescue Helicopters in the UK become privatised and the big yellow sea king helicopters of the RAF become phased out. As I drove up there in the wind and snow, I thought there was no way we’d get up in the air but the pilots were super keen to get going and test the new aircraft.
Conditions were less than ideal but this is generally the case on a real incident. I love being outdoors and being winched in and out of helicopters is something few people ever get to do.