Team members attend the sixth United Kingdom Mountain Rescue Conference 2012

On Friday evening September 7th, four team members, our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, Diane Blakeley, Chris Tennant and Life Vice President Alan James took the bold step for three native Lancastrians and in the case of Chris Tennant, an honorary Lancastrian, of venturing across the dark and forbidding Pennines to that alien place known as Yorkshire, to seek out Leeds and ultimately Leeds Metropolitan University, Headingly Campus, to join a huge number of their colleagues from the MRT / SAR community for the sixth United Kingdom Mountain Rescue Conference weekend, (Previous to this the Conferences were simply an English and Welsh affair, albeit always with a few Scots and a lot of Irish in attendance)

Once over the shock of realising that the M62 Motorway in Yorkshire is no longer cobbled, and that they do indeed have street lights in Leeds, all four settled in to the excellent accommodation of the fantastic new campus at Headingly.

First task for Diane was to guide our dear Team Leader to his room for the night, and then on to the bar area (For those in the know Garry gets very easily lost at MR Conference venues)

Being a veteran of nineteen team conferences, our poor Team Leader still fails to realise when he has had enough ‘loopy juice’ and should retire to bed, mind you the same could be said for Diane (An equal veteran of many previous conferences) and most other delegates present.

Somewhat easier than he thought, finding his way back to his accommodation at 02.15hrs Saturday morning, it was a ‘bright and early’ awakening at 07.00hrs! greeted by blue skies and a strange looking yellow object in the sky, that led the way for many to the excellent breakfast.

Prior to the opening session of the Conference, all were met by the small but very impressive mountain rescue vehicle display outside the conference facilities.

Calder Valley MRT had their brand new Ford Ranger MR Ambulance vehicle present, Rossendale and Pendle MRT had their brand new Toyota HiLux MR Ambulance vehicle alongside their paint still new specialist Land Rover Discovery MR Ambulance (Or impressive RPMRT Team Leader executive transport vehicle according to our very impressed Team Leader) and Patterdale MRT had their Royal Patronage Land Rover Defender MR Ambulance on show with the very impressive call sign ‘HRH1.’ (A wedding present to mountain rescue from our National Patron HRH Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge on his marriage to the Duchess of Cambridge)

There was also a Nissan demonstrator vehicle from APB Specialist Vehicle Integrators with emergency lighting on show.

(Later alongside these very impressive brand new latest specification vehicles Assynt MRT parked up their – no disrespect intended, somewhat ‘older looking’ Land Rover, however we are led to understand they too will soon be enjoying the joys of new vehicle ownership)

At the conference opening and introduction, the usual attendees sat amongst newer attendees, from across the full spectrum of Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh MRTs, Cave Rescue Teams (They also have their own Cavers Conference), foreign MRTs and SRTs including Germany and New Zealand, some members of our sister teams in ALSAR including Wiltshire SART and members of various Police Forces.

Our MREW (Mountain Rescue England and Wales) Chairman David Allan OBE sat with Jonathan Hart, Chairman of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, truely representing the co-operative nature of mainland mountain rescue, whilst a number of MRT Officials were present from our various national MR Regions.

The Conference was opened by ‘our’ National Chairman David Allan OBE followed by an excellent presentation from Paul Amos (Former CFAO Representative to MREW) which provided his personal interesting (Very entertaining) and thought provoking view on where we in the mountain rescue community are, and where we may be going in the future.

Next up was our MREW National President Peter Bell who presented by way of congratulations, MREW Vice Chairman Tony Jones MBE with a framed certificate to commemorate the appointment of Tony Jones MBE to be MREW first ever National Vice President.

It was then onto the full days programme of events, presentations, displays, lectures and seminars, with a very impressive range of well briefed and excellent presenters keeping all entertained.

The Lecture theatre facilities were excellent, with plenty of help from the Conference Team to guide ‘confused’ MRT members to the correct venues (Ie Our Team Leader!) and the morning, lunchtime and Afternoon breaks gave all time to view the excellent trade show at which amongst others were the Conference Platinum Sponsor KEELA, and the Conference Gold Sponsor Dalesman International. (Our friends at SAR Products Limited and PELI Products who have helped the team respectively recently with new stretchers and new scene lighting, were also present)

At the Go Outdoors and Paramo trade stands kind ‘freebie goods bags’ were on offer to those canny conference members who always seek out such, whilst much haggling took place over the various deals that MRT members (Well at least those Bolton MRT members present tried) could wangle with the trade representatives present on the stands.

There follows a brief account of the conference sessions attended on Saturday by our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE;

“My first session was (yet again) to be impressed by Dave (Heavy) Whalley BEM, MBE, who as ever entertained all in his own unique way about ‘Lessons to be Learned,’ drawing on his lifetime of work with the RAF Mountain Rescue Service and his vast mountaineering experiences. I totally concur with Heavy that the past is important, and that we must all learn from our collective pasts.

I next attended part of the ‘International thread,’ with a session presented by John Gera on Search and Rescue in Malta. Having holidayed there alongside an interest in the history of the island, it gave a fascinating insight in to how such is organised on the Island of Malta GC and the outlying islands.

Lunch was taken under a full sun and blue skies (A unique experience this summer, or was it to do with which side of the Pennines we were on?) followed by a very thorough overview of the just published study in to the state of mountain rescue in the Lake District, commissioned by the Lake District Search and Rescue and Mountain Rescue Association entitled ‘Rescue 2020: An Appraisal of Mountain Rescue in the Lake District.’

I went on to purchase three copies of the comprehensive report document for the team, as the report contents can be applied outside the Lake District. (Thanks to Richard Warren of LDSAMRA for chatting further about the report later in the evening)

Next up was Tony Wells, General Manager at the Search and Rescue Institute New Zealand , who described the ground SAR response to the 22nd February 2011 Christchurch 6.3 magnitude earthquake which struck with devastating consequences. The big things (Which I personally subscribe to) I took away from this were “Getting to know other organisations you will work alongside on incidents,” “Understand each others abilities,” “Interoperability,” and “Taking clear ownership of what your service can provide.”

Prior to the afternoon break I then attended an excellent session on ‘Social Media and Online Fundraising.’ This was presented by Neil Hayter of Edale MRT and John Hall of SM4B, a digital and social media agency. I took a lot from this and could easily relate it to how we use our website and twitter sites.

All attending the conference then assembled for an audience with Rory Stewart OBE, a Member of Parliament since election in May 2010, and a former British Diplomat (Indonesia, Montenegro, and Deputy Governor of two provinces in Southern Iraq after the coalition forces entered Iraq)

I can only say that I was very impressed with his views on mountain rescue and his knowledge as an MP of mountain rescue. I’m fairly certain most present came away with a similar viewpoint, he even managed to field very successfully a question from the esteemed Tony Jones MBE!

My final session attended before dinner was ‘50 Years and More in Mountain Rescue’ from Tony Jones MBE, MREW Vice Chairman, MREW Vice President, who gave a very entertaining ‘ramble’ through his experiences in mountain rescue in South Africa, North Wales and many other places throughout the world. His insights into our past, current matters and the future (A theme of many presentations I attended) gave much food for thought, and as ever with the entertaining Mr Jones, it was a pity his presentation had to come to a close.

With another excellent meal, (A suitable lining for the evenings ‘purely social’ drinking) all then attended the main lecture theatre, where Guest Lecturer Tim Mosedale, gave a memorable fully illustrated talk entitled; ‘From Keswick to Everest.’

Tim described in a very funny and entertaining manner his experiences as a double Everest summiteer, climbing Ama Dablam (A beautiful mountain I must say having stood looking in awe across at it whilst trekking in the Khumbu) and points along the way in Kathmundu and the Everest walk in. (I recognised many places from my trekking holiday there two years ago)”

The evening sadly saw all four of our members winning nothing at the massive conference raffle … so many fantastic prizes on offer, and no numbers matching ours! Well done to Harold Burrows MBE of NEWSAR / NSARDA ‘Master of Ceremony’ at the raffle drawer. (Commiserations to our National Magazine Editor Judy Whiteside who also won nothing yet spent the entire raffle drawer murmuring “Purple ticket,” “Purple ticket.”)

More social interaction then took place under the influence of alcohol and going to bed far too late!

So ended a very long day and a venture into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Amazingly all attendees were up for the early Sunday morning breakfast, again greeted by the magical Yorkshire hot weather, horizon to horizon blue skies and the second days showing of that mysterious yellow orb in the sky.

Again an interesting lecture programme followed, enlivened by the Yorkshire Air Ambulance landing at the Campus green.

There follows an account of Sundays sessions attended by our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE;

“Somewhat tired on less than ten hours sleep – none of it good over the last two days, I attended Mark Diggins, Co-Ordinator of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service and Senior Avalanche forecaster for the Northern Cairngorms, session on “Dealing with Avalanche Hazard Challenges in the UK,” with an obvious bias on the Scottish Mountains (Fantastic in winter snow and ice)

Like most others I dare say in the audience I came away with an even more heightened respect for ‘what can happen’ avalanche wise on the hills and mountains in the UK, and having witnessed the after effects of such on occasion whilst climbing in the UK, the Andes and Mexican Highlands, and whilst skiing in the Alps, and even having been in an avalanche myself, I wonder sometimes why I ever venture onto the ‘white stuff!’

I next attended an interesting and very well illustrated session on ‘Technical Mountain Rescue – A Scottish Perspective,’ presented by Jonathan Hart, Chairman of MRC of S and a member of Lochaber MRT and Stuart Johnson, National Training Officer for Scottish Mountain Rescue and Team Leader for Tayside MRT. The session detailed the Scottish national approach to training, and the courses now developed, with emphasis on attendance rather than assessment, and an in house Scottish MRT Instructor basis rather than external instructors. I was impressed with their rotation of training courses being hosted by various MRTs, and their national rope training equipment stock.

For me in my Team Leader role I felt it highly appropriate to attend the session entitled ‘Legal Risk in Mountain Rescue,’ by our Honorary Legal Advisor Tony Rich. With confidentiality the byword of what was said ‘in detail’ at the session, it’s best I report little other than we do not have to worry about too many things so long as we continue to do things as best as we can reasonable do so (My opinion this)

Tony sadly announced to those present that after twenty years serving MREW as Honorary Legal Advisor, he is to shortly retire.

Having sought Tonys considered advice many times personally, sometimes privately and also on behalf of the team, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tony for all his freely given very valuable advice over the years.

Al Day, a friend and colleague Team Leader in Calder Valley MRT, a full time Paramedic Practitioner on the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, and that ever youthful star of the TV series ‘Helicopter Heroes,’ then gave an insight to all things ‘Air Ambulances and Mountain Rescue,’ wise.

A keen audience eagerly answered his many questions as he had prizes to give away for each correct answer!

And that was that, all sessions over and off to the closing speeches for the Conference.

Lyle Brotherton, who teaches Advanced SAR Navigation to mountain rescue and search and rescue teams, plus special forces, alongside advising the US Government on navigational strategy in counter terrorism, then addressed us all, emphasising our voluntary status, his admiration for what we do and our professionalism, and telling us of his ‘very narrow’ escape from a high altitude parachute jump that went very very wrong for him, but where team work saved his life, linking his very personal experience to how we all work in close harmony and in the true spirit of team work.

A pen thrown around the audience featured in his presentation … you had to be there, to see how this ended up with some having a speaking session!

Our National Chairman David Allan OBE then thanked all for their attendance, followed by Peter Howells OBE representing the Conference organising team (A fantastic bunch of people) giving some closing comments.

And thus ended for me my twentieth Mountain Rescue Conference that I have had the pleasure of attending over the years, some I must say have been better than others, but all have been very informative and interesting. And this Conference? Well excellent I would say, an excellent venue (Even given that it was Yorkshire) excellent facilities, excellent presentations, excellent food, excellent friendships cemented, new friendships made, and the realisation as I grow older (A little older) that I should go to bed a little earlier and perhaps, only perhaps, drink a little less alcohol.”

All four Bolton MRT members who attended would like to thank all involved in the UK Mountain Rescue Conference 2012 for such an interesting conference, the sunny and very warm weather was welcomed, and as Lancastrians (Three true and one honorary) we survived a fantastic weekend over the other side of the Pennines.

So here’s to the success of the next United Kingdom Mountain Rescue Conference due to be held in two years time in 2014, hopefully we’ll have a larger contingent from Bolton MRT in attendance, and our Team Leader can celebrate his twenty first again!