Joint Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue 2010

For the sixth 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 Scout 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 seven members of Bolton MRT Support Group, Bob Hutchinson, Gillian Gregory, Iain Clarkson, Howard and Teresa Gilliland – whose daughter Elaine is our Training Officer, Andy Murphy and Julie Thompson, who all attended to help over the weekend.

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

The course instructors were drawn from the teams attending this years course and included a core group of very experienced instructors who have been associated with this course over the many years of its existence.

The full time instructors in residence team involved 3x from Bolton MRT, including the overall course organiser our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, Mike Marsh, also organiser of the MR E&W Party Leaders course and guest lecturer on Irish Mountain Rescue Association training courses and Elaine Gilliland, our Team Training Officer. From North East Wales Search and Rescue Team came their Team Leader Iain Ashcroft, and long serving team member and former Deputy team Leader Becky Waudby, Rossendale & Pendle MRTs Deputy Team Leader Paul Heywood, their and their Trainee Officer Ron Williams, the Team Leader of Cheshire SRT Joanne McClure, and finally not forgetting long term course supporter, instructor and valued friend of our team Simon Thresher from Calder Valley SRT.

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

Members of the Teams Support Group, provided excellent course catering throughout the entire weekend, with every meal available on time, and endless hot and cold drinks whenever anybody asked.

We would like to make especial mention of Walmsley’s Butchers of 31 Bridge Street, Ramsbottom, BL0 9AD, who very kindly supported the weekend by providing some excellent beef at a very favourable price.

25x Trainee MRT & SRT members attended this years course from five teams

  • 4x from Cheshire SRT, from our companion organisation the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue – ALSAR,
  • 6x from NEWSAR, (North East Wales Search & Rescue Team)
  • 5x from Bolton MRT
  • 9x from Rossendale & Pendle MRT.
  • 1x from Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team.

The trainees present were split into four groups each under an experienced course helper / instructor. The Trainees from our team were Diane Blakeley, Martin Banks, Nick Berry, John Fletcher, and Steve O’Hara.

Friday evening activities began with an Introductory DVD on Mountain Rescue followed by a DVD of the previous years course. Our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE then presented 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 sweets, and despite the heavy rain, it came as no great surprise that the trainees found every can in the field.

A dramatic shot from the first evenings search exercise

What has previously been described as ’intense team member interaction under the influence of alcohol’ then took place between all present on the course.
Rossendale & Pendle MRT won the unofficial “Lets see which teams members stay up the Latest” award with all of their team seeing the hour of 4:30 am before retiring to their beds. Our very own Trainee member John Fletcher also stayed the course matching RPMRTs members 4:30 target.

This evening was the first in a number of years where delegates have brought their own musical entertainment with two Rossendale and Pendle members bringing guitars. Our own John Fletcher also demonstrated his musical talents by taking a turn on the guitar.

The morning dawned all too quickly, considering some had retired to bed at the late hour of 04.30hrs! With many a hangover in sight, a trip to Bibbys Farm Pond was first on the days program where the use of water throwlines was practised with team members Andy Kench (A member of the RSPCA Flood Response Team when not out with Bolton MRT) Ged Clake, Steve Fletcher and Elaine Gilliland along with Jo McClure of Cheshire SRT providing target practice in the water, followed by waterside body recovery exercises.

Team Member Andy Kench demonstrating how to throw a throwline, the photographer didn’t flinch, until the weighted bag hit him!

Next was the arrival of two Police Air Support Unit helicopters from our colleagues at the Greater Manchester Police ASU and Lancashire Constabulary ASU, who both landed very close to the main building sand then started to sink just a little bit into the very soft and wet field! Sadly our friends at the North West Air Ambulance Helimed 08 and 72 were unable to attend this year.

Following the usual promised delivery of a full cooked breakfast to the two ASU crews, all the trainees present were given a very comprehensive briefing on working with and around the Police helicopters.

The team and the course as ever extends its thanks to GMP ASU and Lancashire Constabulary ASU for continuing to support this weekend.

Getting the opportunity to liaise with the air crews is a major part of the course

The purpose of such helicopters attending this course allows the trainees to interact with the air crews and to ask questions specifically as to how the MRTs and SRTs can assist in working together with such important airborne assets. In turn the aircrews of the helicopters attending were grateful of the opportunity to meet our members and display the capabilities of their aircraft.
Following photographs it was time for the helicopters to depart, with the rotor downwash causing a little problem for the Scout Beaver outdoor cooking competition taking place in the adjacent field! (Cooking tables, chairs and Beavers were soon reinstated in their correct upright positions!)

With the departure of the Police Helicopters the course then had a VIP visitor in Derek Cartwright, Director of Emergency Services for the North West Ambulance Service, a Bolton man with a long service behind him as a emergency ambulanceman (Paramedic) and Operational Area Manager with GMAS / NWAS, and much experience of working directly with MRTs. Derek kindly outlined the importance NWAS puts on its close liaison with MRTs and such partnership workings, including a specific presentation on this summer’s tragic Cumbria shooting incident, where MRTs were called out to search the route of the gunman for possible casualties.

Carl Silver – its unusual to get a photo of the course photographer!

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 and a Senior Anaesthetic Practitioner
  • Peter Goble (RPMRT) an NWAS (Lancashire) Emergency Ambulance Technician.
  • Bolton MRT member Doctor Clare Whitney, a GP and A&E Doctor

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.

Some of the participants on the Noon Hill Gulley – do you think they were having fun?

This picture demonstrates how steep Noon Hill Gully is, and they are carrying a stretcher at this point!

For some of our trainee colleagues from Cheshire SRT this very steep ground stretcher handling work is a complete new experience and despite the sweating and sheer physical hard work (& the odd curse!) it was one they all thoroughly enjoyed. Its opportune here to thank the two young Scouts from Bibbys Farm Scout Campsite, who volunteered to be the exercise casualties for this session and who put their complete trust in the hands of the trainees present. Ah the innocence of youth!

Hauling the stretcher party

“We Survived Noon Hill Gully”

The evening lectures with a surprisingly still alert and attentive audience introduced to guest lecturers Sgt Tony Darbyshire and PC Ian Crossley, two very experienced Police Missing Person Search Managers from the Greater Manchester Police Specialist Search Unit, who outlined the Police Service expectations of MRTs / SRTs., and their personal experiences of working with MRTs / SRTs.

This was followed by Hazel Kennedy, a long-time friend of the Bolton MRT, and former Bolton MRT Support Group member, outlining the ambulance service expectations of Mountain Rescue.

Hazel was in a unique position to deliver this presentation, having been a former Emergency Medical Despatcher with what was Greater Manchester Ambulance Service at their Belle Vue Control Centre before becoming an NWAS Emergency Medical Technician on Emergency Ambulances based at Bolton South Ambulance Station. (where she still serves and regularly works with the Bolton MRT on joint incidents)

This session was followed by former Bolton MRT member, and now Forensic Officer with the Home Office, Gyles Denn who gave all an introduction to Forensic and Crime Scene Protocols as applicable to MRT / SRT operations. Gyles during his time with the Bolton MRT produced a document on this subject which a number of MRTs subsequently adopted.

A very informative session was then covered by Cheshire LSART member Geoff Robert on Coroners Inquests. Geoff is Her Majesty’s Assistant Deputy Coroner for Cheshire, and presented his session entitled ‘Coroners and other nightmares,’ which all present, including the instructors found to be of great interest.

The evening was rounded off by a lecture from long serving MPSRO representative to MR (E&W) Press Officer Paul Heywood, also Deputy Team Leader of RPMRT, on “What Mountain Rescue – England & Wales Does for You”.

The very last lecture, a practical table top search management exercise conducted by our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE was based on two real life incidents that the Bolton MRT had attended, and finished at the late time of 22:30 Hrs, with all the trainees coming up with search plans which located the missing persons in each incident example. Well done folks, who needs Search Managers!

Martin Banks from Bolton Team working on the table top search exercise

The Evening then rapidly descended into a ’how much can you still drink before the sleep deprivation from the previous evenings caught up with you’ competition with this year Bolton team members once again holding their own against strong competition from the other teams present.

Sunday morning saw another early full English breakfast, or is that Welsh ? for our NEWSAR colleagues, to line everybody’s stomachs for the morning and early afternoon sessions, which included 6x search& rescue practical exercises. With the casualties very realistically made up by Jo McClure of Cheshire SART.

Sam McKay and Simon Thresher with some of the participants on the course

However before the outdoor exercises commenced, former Bolton MRT and current NSARDA Secretary Dave Marsh, a former NSARDA Air Scenting Dog Handler, teamed up with Ellie Sherwin of SARDA and Calder Valley SRT and her dog Pepper, to give an overview of search techniques and the effectiveness of the different types of search dogs in mountain rescue environments to the delegates.

It was then off to the Lower House area of Rivington, for the outdoor sessions, which ended mid afternoon.

Getting briefed on the small object search exercise

With the exercises concluded 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 Chris Tennant, Steve “why take one digital picture when one thousand will do” Fletcher, and Paul Brain. Team supporter and friend Carl Silver also provided much photographic material from his days with the team on the Saturday and Sunday of this course.

Garry Rhodes our TL, as per last year, wanted a special certificate for attending this years course as it was the 23rd Foundation Course in MR he has attended in his time in MR, 1x as a trainee, and 22x 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, along with Paul Heywood of Rossendale and Pendle MRT, thats also a lot of late nights and beer drunk!

Don’t ever let it be said Garry doesn’t do anything useful in the team!

A comprehensive, ever developing, training manual was yet again produced for this years training course with copies handed to all the trainees and instructors present. (With thanks to Bolton MRT Training Officer Elaine Gilliland and Bolton MRT Mike Marsh, for completely revising the manual this year) At this point it is appropriate to thank Bolton MRT member Steve Nelson for his assistance in printing this manual & very special thanks to P & M Printers of Warrington who printed 40x copies of this full colour manual completely free for the use of course members, and course staff.

Thanks also to the weekend Scout 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 Teresa Gilliland, who are going to give instructions to the rest of the Bolton MRT members 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 a similar weekend in October 2011, with all five participating teams from this year due to take part.

The tradiational Group Photograph with Lancashire Constabularys helicopter hovering over the group in front of Greater Manchester Polices’ helicopter

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 2011 course.

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

  • Now more confident at moving stretchers over steep ground without resorting to fixed belays.
  • Meeting other teams and understanding that we are part of a co-ordinated organisation.
  • It was fun and never really felt like a training course, more like a joint exercise to learn from each other.
    I learnt a lot.

  • It has given me more confidence in my abilities.
  • Good balance of the outdoor and the indoor.
  • Good interaction with other team members and the mentors.
  • Active, developmental, fun and tiring!
  • Team morale was exceptionally high.
  • All teams ’Manned Up.’
  • The positive instruction gave me the confidence to handle the extremes of the area.
  • Fantastic, challenging, informative, good time!
  • The practical exercises really helped to consolidate the learning.
  • Laughing and learning a lot !
  • Loads of activity crammed in to two days, I am leaving with a sense of achievement.
  • The stretcher handling exercise on the very steep ground was brilliant.
  • An action packed weekend that would be hard to improve, a very well organised weekend.
  • Ping Pong!
  • The comradeship, the exercises, the food!
  • Awesome, brilliant, fantastic!
  • Can I please do it all again next year.
  • Really enjoyed it, excellent training.
  • Good weekend, very well presented.
  • Would recommend this course to anyone starting their MR career.
  • Mixing with colleagues from other teams.
  • Good fun, hard work !
  • I learnt a lot being able to put the classroom experiences in to practice.
  • Sense of camaraderie very evident.
  • The stretcher exercise showed how easy it can be to tackle rough and steep terrain when you set up the right technique.
  • The lectures were very varied and interesting.
  • Enjoyed the hands on table top search management exercise.
  • The guest lecturers were very good and very informative.
  • Tiring, challenging, fun.
  • Now understand how MR is perceived by other agencies.
  • Great Support Staff and thanks to Bolton MRT for all their hard work.
  • Really enjoyed the Sunday exercises, a chance to put it all together.
  • The organisation of the weekend helped things run smoothly.
  • The classroom sessions were very good.
  • Great venue and great food.
  • Challenging, busy, enjoyable, appropriate and realistic.
  • Great to be with team members of equal experience and training.
  • Being given independence in decision making in the practical scenerios.

Next years course takes place from Friday 21st October to Sunday 23rd October 2011. I wonder how many of this years trainees will make it to this time next year?