Joint Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue – 2008

For the forth year running, the Team organised and took part in a fully residential Joint Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue based at the excellent facilities of the Bolton Scouts District Bibbys Farm Scout Campsite & Activity Centre, at Heath Charnock, nestling in the foothills and reservoirs of the West Pennine Moors.

This weekend is totally supported by Bolton MRT, in terms of exercise venues, exercise casualties, equipment, vehicles & full course catering. (With huge thanks to the members of Bolton MRT Support Group, Gillian Gregory, Iain Clarkson, Teresa & Howard Gilliland – whose daughter Elaine was on this course, Hazel Kennedy, Becky Roberts – Whose father was on the course(!) and Alan Yates).

The weekend is aimed at new members of MRTS, i.e. of circa 6 – 12 months experience, and is intended to cover some subjects not generally covered at a Team level and to consolidate other topics and course members experiences to date.

The highly experienced course instructors are drawn from the Teams attending this years course and from Teams who have attended the course in the past.

The full time instructors in residence involved 4 from Bolton MRT, including the overall course organiser our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, Becky Waudby Deputy TL of NEWSAR, Paul Heywood, the DTL of R&PMRT and their Training Officer Peter Goble, the Chairperson of Cheshire Lowland SRT Joanne McClure, not forgetting long term course supporter, instructor and friend of our team Simon Thresher from Calder Valley SRT.

The other Bolton MRT fulltime instructors included Fred Taylor, Mike Marsh (also organiser of the MR E&W Party Leaders course and guest lecturer on Irish Mountain Rescue Association training courses) and Andy Ryding, our team training officer.

Throughout the weekend full IT support culminating in an end of course video was provided by Bolton MRT team members Steve Fletcher and Paul Brain.

Very special mention needs to be made of team callout list members Sue Purtill and Joanne Stones, who along with members of the support group provided excellent course catering.

29 trainee MRT & SRT members attended this years course, with 2 from Wiltshire SRT (from our colleagues in ALSAR, one member of whom, Adrian Edwards, is also the national Chairman of ALSAR – Association of Lowland Search & Rescue), 5 from Cheshire LSRT (also ALSAR), 4 from NEWSAR (North East Wales Search & Rescue) 7 from Bolton MRT and 11 from Rossendale & Pendle MRT. The trainees present were split into four groups each under an experienced course helper / instructor.

Friday evening activities began with a DVD of the previous years course, followed by a lecture on Professionalism and Personnel Requirements in MR. The usual night time search exercise then commenced locating objects in the adjoining fields. Given that the objects were cans of beer and packets of toffees it came as a great surprise that the trainees missed at least one can in the field (found the following day by the helicopter landing on it!)

What is best described as ’intense social interaction under the influence of alcohol’ then took place between all present on the course.

The morning dawned all too quickly with many a hangover in sight and a bright morning greeted everybody. A trip to Bibbys farm Pond was first on the days program where the use of water throwlines was practiced with team members Fred Taylor, Steve Fletcher and Joanne McClure providing target practice in the water.

An historic first for this course (and any mountain rescue course for that matter we believe) was the arrival of 3 helicopters at 09:30 hours, India 99 from the Greater Manchester Police Air Support Unit (with their brand new McD902 Explorer helicopter), Helimed 08 the NorthWest Air Ambulance Helicopter and Oscar November 99 the Lancashire Constabulary Air Support Unit helicopter. The team and the course extends its thanks to all three of these organisations for supporting this course and to the North West Air Ambulance Trust and Bond Helicopters for allowing helimed 08 to attend.

The purpose of these helicopters in attending this course allows the trainees to interact with the air crew and to ask questions specifically as to how the MRTs and SRTs can assist in working together with these important airborne assets.

In turn the aircrew of all helicopters attending were grateful of the opportunity to meet our members (and of course the full cooked English breakfast that greeted every air crew on arrival).

The day then continued with a series of lectures and mini practical exercises, with casualty care sessions coming under the expert instruction provided by Bolton MRT member & very experienced A&E Charge Nurse Alistair Greenough, ex Bolton MRT member and now NWAS (Manchester) Emergency Ambulance Technician Iain Peel, Dave McClure medical team leader of Cheshire LSAR & a Senior Anaesthetic Practitioner and Peter Goble (RPMRT) an NWAS (Lancashire) Emergency Ambulance Technician.

Late afternoon saw all the course students undertaking a rigorous 2 hour ’steep learning curve’ on a very physically demanding introductory session to steep ground stretcher handling work, in the confines of Noon Hill Gully on the edge of Rivington Moor.

During this exercise the weather rapidly deteriorated from the early morning sun to nil visibility mist and torrential rain making this session even more demanding for the trainees some of whom were having their first experience of steep ground work.

During this exercise course instructors and Bolton MRT members became involved in incident 105/2008 in the nearby Rivington area. (see separate news article)

For some of our colleagues from the Lowland SRT’s this steep ground stretcher handling work was a complete new experience and despite the bad weather, the sweating and sheer physical hard work (& the odd curse!) it was one they all thoroughly enjoyed.

The evening lectures with a surprisingly still attentive audience introduced guest lecturer Hazel Kennedy from NWAS (Manchester) who gave an insight into ambulance service expectations of an MRT based on her own experiences firstly as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher/ Incident Desk Operator with what was GMAS Paramedic Emergency Control, and now as an NWAS (Manchester) Emergency Technician who has worked with the team on a number of joint incidents. Observant readers will also note Hazel had additional duties on the course as a member of our support group.

Next came former Bolton MRT and SARDA member Dave Marsh, along with the now retired from active duty, search dog Chi. Whilst with the team Chi had three successful finds, and both Chi and Dave assist in the training of our current trainee search dogs Tess and Boris (together with the more difficult training of dog handlers Alistair Greenough and Steve Nelson). Dave gave an overview of search techniques and the effectiveness of the different types of search dogs in mountain rescue and ALSAR environments to the delegates.

Course member Geoff Roberts (Geoffers), also father of former team callout member, now support group member Becky Roberts, gave an impromptu lecture on his role as Assistant County Coroner for Cheshire. (Which all present, including the instructors found to be of great interest).

The evening was rounded off by a lecture from MR (E&W) Public Relations officer Andy Simpson (also TL of RPMRT) on “What the Mountain Rescue Council of England & Wales Does for You”.

The very last lecture, a practical table top search management exercise conducted by our TL Garry Rhodes was based on two real life incidents that the Bolton MRT had attended and finished at 22:30 Hrs, with all the trainees coming up with search plans which located the missing persons in each incident example.

The Evening then rapidly descended into a ’how much can you drink before the sleep deprivation from the previous evenings caught up with you’ competition (this year the Bolton team regained its lost title of being the final team members to retire to their beds.)

Sunday morning saw another early full English breakfast (Welsh ? for our NEWSAR colleagues) to line everybodies stomachs for the morning and early afternoon sessions, which included 5 moorland search & rescue practical exercises.

All these sessions took place in full public view in the Lower House area of Rivington with considerable public interest taking place in all the proceedings (there were Mountain Rescue Landrover Ambulances, the ’Hummer’ and Cheshire ALSARs new minibus all on proud public show).

With the exercises concluded, the trainees returned to the Bibbys Farm centre, where a debrief session took place, attendance certificates were issued and then the ’World Premier’ of an excellent and highly entertaining DVD that had been filmed and edited throughout the weekend nonstop by Bolton MRT members Paul Brain & Steve Fletcher. Team supporter and friend Carl Silver also provided much photographic material from his day with the team on the Saturday of this course, bravely enduring the wet conditions of the outdoor exercise to obtain pictures for the DVD.

Garry Rhodes our TL, as per last year, wanted a special certificate for attending this years course as it was the 21st foundation course in MR he has attended in his MR career, 1 as a trainee, 20 as an instructor (please will somebody remember this before next years foundation Course and make a special certificate for the course next year!) (Mike Marsh is also catching up on the number of foundation courses he has attended.)

A comprehensive training manual was yet again produced for this years training course with copies handed to all the trainees and instructors present. At this point it is appropriate to thank Bolton MRT member Steve Nelson for his assistance in printing this manual & special thanks to P & M Printers of Warrington who printed 50 copies of this manual completely free for the use of course members.

Thanks also to the weekend staff at Bibbys Farm who hosted us and had to contend with the usual raucous MR late night activities (both planned and unplanned!)

Thanks also to Sue Purtill and Teresa Gilliland, who are going to give instructions to the rest of the senior Bolton MRT staff on how to make Garry Rhodes keep to a timetable after scaring him into keeping to the mealtimes planned for the course!

Next years course is at the same venue and will be held over the weekend of Friday 9th – Sunday 11th October 2009, with the expected February 2009 Bolton MRT intake required to attend, joined of course by our usual colleagues. Wiltshire SAR are also hoping to attend in greater numbers next year.

If any member of any MRT other than the usual attending teams are also interested in coming along to this well established course (with a history going back to the MPSRO courses which started in 1982 and a format which has been constantly developed since) then please contact Bolton MRT Team Leader Garry Rhodes at for details of booking onto the 2009 course.

The following comments are just some of the many made at the end of course debrief by the trainees present:

“Watching ’bambi’ (Bolton MRT member Michael O’Brien) fall over all the time”

“Re-enforced the fact that ALSAR and MRTs do the same job but under different names”

“Completing exercises successfully, despite then seeming impossible at the start”

“The hospitality”

“What happened to the boot laces?”

“How did you get not one, not two but three helicopters attending?”

“Don’t mention the thong”

“Working as a team”

“So that is what a chapstick is for!”

“The excellent spirit of team building”

“This is just a normal week for Bolton MRT members”

“Professionally run, a superb course, well managed”

“Friendly approach from the instructors, assertive but with humour”

“Dancing on the roof-rack of the ’Hummer’!”

“Impressed by the knowledge of the instructors and the mentors”

“How did that pair of knickers get on to so many heads!”

“Excellent catering”

What are you waiting for, book a place for next year.