Joint Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue 2011

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

This weekend is fully supported by Bolton MRT, in terms of exercise venues, arranging exercise casualties, supplying equipment, vehicles & full course catering. With huge thanks to the six members of Bolton MRT Support Group, Bob Hutchinson, Gillian Gregory, Iain Clarkson, Steve James, Dr. Clare Whitney and her husband, Pete Whitney, who all attended to help over the weekend (thanks also to Bolton MRT team callout list member Samantha McKay who assisted our Training Officer Elaine Gilliland with all the food purchases on Friday)

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 member’s experiences to date.

The course instructors were drawn from the teams attending this year’s course plus the usual support of Rossendale & Pendle MRT (even though they had no trainees attending this year) 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 involved four 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, Elaine Gilliland, our Team Training Officer, and experienced team member Gyles Denn. 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, along with their Training Officer Graham Munns. Rossendale & Pendle MRTs Deputy Team Leader Paul Heywood, a long time supporter of this course kindly attended alongside 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, Paul Brain and Gill Leigh.

Other Bolton MRT callout list members supporting this weekend, some in residence, some not, included Martin Banks, Nick Berry, Alistair Greenough, Andy Kench, Stephen Kenworthy, Chris Tennant and Diane Blakeley.

Members of the Team’s 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.

22x Trainee MRT & SRT members attended this year’s course from four 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)
  • 10x from Bolton MRT
  • 2x from Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team

The trainees present were split into four groups each under two experienced course helper/instructor/mentors. The Trainees from our team were Paul Chisholm, David Crawford, David Cook, Paul Copley, Phil Crook, Tony Dawson, John Dickinson, Naomi Horan, Kris Kilshaw and Carly Raines.

Friday evening activities began with an Introductory DVD on Mountain Rescue followed by a DVD of the previous year’s course. Our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE then presented a lecture on Professionalism and Personnel Requirements in Mountain Rescue.

Some of the course delegates, not quite sure what to expect over the course of the weekend!

A night time search exercise then commenced locating objects in the adjoining fields. Given that the objects were bottles of beer and packets of sweets, and due no doubt to the excellent conditions, it came as no great surprise that the trainees found every bottle and packet of sweets in the field.

It came as a greater surprise that one group managed to find a can of beer and packet of sweets that had not been located on last year’s course!

What we always describe as ’intense team member interaction under the influence of alcohol’ then took place between all present on the course.
Bolton MRT were the undisputed champions of the unofficial “Let’s see which team’s members stay up the latest” award with Dave Cook and Kris Kilshaw beating all previous records (and seemingly not suffering throughout the rest of Saturday)

The morning dawned all too quickly, with a very early morning wake up call for breakfast at 07:30, with many a hangover in sight awaiting a full cooked breakfast.

With breakfast barely over, the first of the intense weekend sessions started at 08:45 with the arrival of 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, with much reference to major incident working, the assistance by MRTs in wintry weather conditions, and the acknowledged expertise of MRTs that NWAS very frequently calls upon.

Derek Cartwright, Director, Paramedic Emergency Service for NWAS, presents a lecture on the work of NWAS and the assistance that MRTs and SRTs can provide to services like NWAS..

Next was the 09:35 arrival of the North West Air Ambulance helicopter, Helimed 08, from Blackpool airport, with considerable thanks for its involvement to the NWAA Charity Trust. On hand to greet the arrival of the helicopter was Paul West, NWAA Clinical Director, former long-serving aircrew member and a great friend and supporter of our team.

Greater Manchester Police ASU helicopter, India 99, was due to participate but “went technical” early in the morning and with apologies could not attend.

Lancashire Constabulary ASU helicopter, Oscar November 99, then landed at 10:25, close to the still on scene Helimed 08.

All the trainees were given a very comprehensive briefing on working with and around these helicopters. Following the briefing, we delivered on our promise of a full cooked breakfast to the two helicopter crews present,

NWAA Helimed 08 coming in to land at Bibby’s Farm Scout Camp

Lancashire Constabulary ASU, Oscar November 99, with the trainees paying much attention to the lecture by the crews

We would like to express our thanks to the two helicopter crews for also allowing some Scouts from Walmsley (present on site as a working party this weekend) and the children of some of our team members and the on-site warden staff to also look over the two helicopters and to have their photographs taken alongside the aircraft and crew.

The Bolton team would like to make a special mention of long-time supporter and valued friend of the team Dave Lane who also visited at this time and was proudly pictured alongside the aircraft with his two sons, Simon and Rick Lane, who were attendees on the course from Cheshire SRT.

The team and the course as ever extends its thanks to GMP ASU (who had every intention of attending), Lancashire Constabulary ASU and North West Air Ambulance for continuing to support this weekend. We extend special thanks to Captain Gary Leigh, Pc Mel Jeffrey, and Pc Al Neary of Lancashire Constabulary ASU, and Captain John Taylor, Paramedic Wayne Pemberton, Paramedic Mark Etherington and Paul West of the North West Air Ambulance, who all gave excellent presentations to those present on the work of their units.

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.

Next up were guest lecturers Inspector Graham Peffers and Pc Ian Crossley, two very experienced Police Missing Person Search Managers and POLSAs (Police Search Advisors) from the Greater Manchester Police Specialist Search Unit, who outlined the Police Service expectations of MRTs/SRTs, and their considerable personal experiences of working with MRTs/SRTs on operational search incidents and training exercises. Their excellent presentation included many references to search operations known to many of the longer serving team members present on the course.

Inspector Graham Peffers presents a lecture on Police joint working with MRTs on search operations

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,
  • Dave McClure Medical Team Leader of Cheshire SRT and a Senior Anaesthetic Practitioner
  • Bolton MRT Support Group member Doctor Clare Whitney, a GP and A&E Doctor

Mountain Rescue stretcher types were then covered by Simon Thresher and Nick Berry.

A quick “resus” practical

The large range of MR stretcher types was presented – pictured here is the SAR Alpine Lite MR stretcher with wheel assembly

Practising C-spine immobilisation

Following lunch, a trip to nearby Chorley Reservoir, used by Bibbys Farm for water activities, was next on the day’s 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) John Fletcher, Steve Fletcher, Martin Banks and Elaine Gilliland along with Jo McClure of Cheshire SRT providing target practice in the water.

Whilst waiting for the trainees to arrive, Elaine and Steve take time out to play piggy in the middle with a plastic duck!

Throwline practise (a tricky thing to get right!)

Late afternoon saw all the course students undertaking a very 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.

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 George Lonsdale and James Cropper, two Explorer Scouts from 25th Bolton, who volunteered to be the exercise casualties for this session and who put their complete trust and faith in the hands of the trainees present. Ah the naivety of youth!

Moving onto the steep ground stretcher evacuation exercises

Trainees make their way up the steep sides of Noon Hill Gully with a stretcher and casualty on board

Using ropes to haul stretchers – an important practice

All then returned to Bibby’s Farm where there followed an excellent presentation on the use of search dogs in the UK. First up was husband and wife team Iain and Alison Nicholson from Bowland Pennine MRT, SARDA Wales & SARDA England respectively, who gave an overview of Mountain Rescue Trail Dogs (in respect of Iain’s search dog Mij) and Mountain Rescue Air Scenting dogs (in respect of Alison’s search dog, Floss). This was followed immediately by a session from Crew Commander Mick Dewar from Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service, a Fire Scene Investigation/Urban Search and Rescue Dog Handler. Mick who was in the company of his son Daniel, outlined his work with Fire Urban Search and Rescue Dog Echo, a veteran of numerous operations here and abroad, and Fire Scene Investigation Dog Lucy, an equally experienced dog. Mike has worked with Echo on mountain rescue operations in our team area and with our colleagues in Bowland Pennine MRT and is very familiar to us from recent ’Emergency Services Open Days’ / GMFRS Fire Station Open Days and similar.

Following a late evening meal, the sessions continued with Bolton MRT member, and former Forensic Officer with the Home Office, Gyles Denn who gave all an introduction, mixed in with a large dose of humour, to Forensic and Crime Scene Protocols as applicable to MRT/SRT operations. During his time with the Bolton MRT, Gyles produced a policy document on this subject which a number of other MRTs subsequently adopted.

The final exercise of the night – a tabletop search planning exercise

Practice search areas are defined as more and more intelligence comes through in trickles

The evening continued with lectures from Paul Heywood, also Deputy Team Leader of RPMRT, on “Ambulance Expectations of an MRT”, followed by Mike Marsh and Joanne McClure on the differences between lowland and upland search operations, and mountain rescue upland and lowland search techniques.

The very last lecture, demonstrating how intense this weekend was, commenced at 22:15, with a practical table top search management exercise conducted by our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE which was based on two real life incidents that the Bolton MRT had attended, and finished at the late time of 23:15, with all the trainees coming up with search plans which located (OK – in most cases!) the missing persons in each incident example. Well done folks – who needs Search Managers!

The evening then 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 member Carly Raines and Kris Kilshaw holding out against strong competition from the other teams present.

A mixture of sleep depravation, alcohol and relaxation led to competition time, first off was the marshmallow challenge with our Kris Kilshaw’s amazing mouth-stretching attempt (14 marshmallows) being comprehensively beaten by Cheshire SRTs champion – 18 marshmallows in total! Cream cracker eating (without a drink) followed, with our Kris Kilshaw putting up what he thought was an unbeatable challenge of 11 crackers, swiftly demolished by Calder Valley SRT with a mouth-drying 19 crackers at one go.

The cornflake packet game (you had to be there) came up with joint winners Carly Raines from our team, and one of the women from NEWSAR.

Getting into the wee small hours now…

Kris tries to beat the cream cracker eating record… without success!

Playing the cornflake packet game (it’s a bit of a challenge to balance after a few drinks!)

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 started with lectures on Mountain Rescue Spot Pickup operations, radio communications and “What the MREW Executive does for you”, followed by five practical search & rescue exercises, in the Lower House area of Rivington, with the casualties very realistically made up by Gyles Denn of Bolton MRT.

A trainee locates a practice “body” which has been concealed in suspicious circumstances

Paul comforts the “casualty” in this exercise

With the exercises concluded a debrief session took place, attendance certificates were issued and then the ’World Premiere’ 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, Paul Brain and Gill Leigh, with Simon Thresher taking on the role of Executive Director. Team supporter and friend Carl Silver also provided much photographic material from the two days with the team on the Saturday and Sunday of this course.

A comprehensive, ever developing, training manual was yet again produced for this year’s 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 undertaking this year’s revision of the manual) At this point it is appropriate to thank Bolton MRT member Steve Nelson for his assistance in arranging the printing this manual & very special thanks to P & M Printers of Warrington who printed thirty 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 (don’t mention the supermarket trolley racing competition with ace crew Kris Kilshaw and Carly Raines)

Next year’s course is at the same venue and will be held over the weekend of Friday 12th October – Sunday 14th October 2012, with Rossendale & Pendle MRT already confirmed as attending.

The trainees, course instructors and crew of NWAA Helimed 08 pictured together

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 2012 course.

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

  • “I’d like to think I’ve made some great new friends”
  • “It’s hard to say what I enjoyed most about the weekend. There was so much good stuff packed in”
  • “The camaraderie in the team”
  • “A fun weekend, hard but fun”
  • “The instructors were excellent”
  • “Having a chance to lead groups”
  • “The Noon Hill Gully exercise was the best lesson of the weekend”
  • “Realising how much I actually did know and then that I knew completely nothing”
  • “Congratulations to the entire group for being entertained for over two hours by just a cornflake packet”
  • “Don’t bother bringing a book to read in your spare time – there ain’t time”
  • “Meeting other members from different teams”
  • “Lack of sleep!”
  • “Very well organised, never a dull moment”
  • “Excellent facilities”
  • “I was a little nervous about this weekend, but it all went very well, I’ve learned a lot and even slept with three strange men!”
  • “Consolidating training we have already received, and gaining confidence in my abilities”
  • “Water training!”
  • “Excellent bunch of trainers/mentors/chefs”
  • “Very well run course with good instruction”
  • “Enhancing my personal confidence”
  • “Hearing Naomi’s ’Bambi’ impression during the cornflake packet game”
  • “Great organisation”
  • “Brilliant exercise scenarios”
  • “Great banter between teams”
  • “The course was challenging and hard work, but very enjoyable”
  • “Intense, but all the better for it – there was no part that I didn’t enjoy”
  • “Drinking games!”
  • “Loved the whole weekend – would come again – very well planned out”
  • “Well organised with no waiting around. I can eat more crackers than Kris at Bolton team!”
  • “Outside speakers from Police and Ambulance were excellent”
  • “Tiring, inspiring, fun, informative”
  • “A big thank-you to all the helpers, a massive undertaking, excellent organisation”
  • “50/50 between banter and learning new skills”
  • “It’s 15:20 on Sunday afternoon and everything hurts (including my red eyes). I need to jet-wash/boil myself and my kit, but I’m still grinning at the experience. Definitely a weekend to remember.”
  • “Helicopter flyin – especially Helimed aerobatics on approach”
  • “Learning more about the interactions of MR and other forces e.g. Police, Ambulance and SARDA”
  • “Balance of lectures and practicals was really good”
  • “Happy to go home tired”
  • “An intensive, enjoyable learning environment with folk who know their stuff”
  • “Very informative, able to participate in outdoor exercises and given the chance the undertake lead roles whilst not being wary of making mistakes”

At the end of the course, the team as usual was faced with taking all the teaching, training and technology equipment back to our Ladybridge Hall Base/HQ, and cleaning inside and out all five of our vehicles used on the weekend. Huge thanks to all our team members who had been on the weekend and gave up even more of their time to undertake this task, also being joined by team member Ana Toole and a colleague from Cheshire SRT.

n.b. some pictures in this article are copyright of Carl Silver