Joint Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue 2012

For the eighth year running, starting on Friday evening 11th October and running through to the late afternoon of Sunday 14th October, 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 Trust Bibbys Farm Scout Campsite & Activity Centre, at Heath Charnock, nestling in the foothills and reservoirs of the West Pennine Moors.

This weekend is annually fully supported by Bolton MRT, in terms of exercise venues, arranging exercise casualties, supplying equipment, vehicles & full course catering.

The course catering was provided with huge thanks to six members of Bolton MRT Support Group, Iain Clarkson, Steve James, Andrew Keyworth, Amanda Strickleton, Julie Thompson, and Andrew Wilson who all attended to help at various times over the weekend, with Support Group members Sarah Hindle and Laura Tunnicliffe being full time ‘cooks in residence.’ (Thanks also to Bolton MRT team callout list member and Team President Bob Hutchinson who also assisted with the catering and food purchases)

Sarah and Laura

The first exercise of the weekend, the night-time search exercise

The weekend is aimed at new members of MRTs and SRTs, with 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 and group mentors were drawn as usual from the teams attending this year’s 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 principal instructors in residence involved four from Bolton MRT, including the overall course organiser our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, Mike Marsh, also a past organiser of the MREW Party Leaders Course and guest lecturer on Irish Mountain Rescue Association training courses, Elaine Gilliland, our Team Training Officer and a current Instructor on the MREW Party Leaders Course, and experienced team member Alistair Greenough. From North East Wales Search and Rescue Team came their Team Leader Iain Ashcroft, whilst from Rossendale & Pendle MRT came their Team Leader Pete Goble and long time course supporter and instructor Paul Heywood, and finally not forgetting also long term course supporter, instructor and valued friend of our team Simon Thresher from Calder Valley SRT.

The cornflake box game

Cheshire SRT due to other team commitments this weekend were unable to send any principal instructors, but their Team Leader and Deputy Team Leader, husband and wife Joanne McClure and Dave McClure kindly visited the course on Saturday evening, to show their support and say hello.

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.

Other Bolton MRT callout list members supporting this weekend, some in part residence, some not, included John Fletcher, John Dickinson, Phil Crook, Martin Banks, Andy Kench, Stephen Kenworthy, Diane Blakeley, Ana Toole, Mike O’Brien, Neil Warburton, Tony Dawson, Paul Copley, David Cook, and Alan James.

Cracker eating competition

As ever the fantastic 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. 29x Trainee MRT & SRT members attended this year’s course from five teams.

  • 5x from Cheshire SRT, from our companion organisation the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue – ALSAR
  • 12x from Rossendale and Pendle MRT
  • 10x from NEWSAR (North East Wales Search & Rescue Team)
  • 1x from Bolton MRT
  • 1x from Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team

The trainees present, including our own Trainee Nigel Booth were split into four groups, each under the direction of two experienced mentors drawn from Bolton MRT, Rossendale and Pendle MRT, Calder Valley SRT and NEWSART.
Friday evenings proceedings commenced with an introductory DVD on Mountain Rescue followed by the end of course DVD from last years course, to give all a taste of what was to come.

Our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE then delivered a short presentation on the history of UK Mountain Rescue followed by a presentation on Professionalism and Personal Requirements in Mountain Rescue.

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 clear conditions, though it was very wet and muddy underfoot, it came as no great surprise that the trainees found every bottle and packet of sweets in the field.

Andy Kench overseeing the Saturday morning throwline training

What we always describe as ’intense team member interaction under the influence of alcohol’ then took place between all present on the course as midnight came and went.

Competition time between teams and team members soon followed, first off was the water blow football game, which got very wet for not only the unsuspecting players from NEWSART and RPMRT but for the spectators as well.

The marshmallow challenge, first played in 2011, then got off to an intense and very quick challenge between the same two previous players, with RPMRT fielding their amazing mouth-stretching player who wiped the previous record of 18x marshmellows crammed into one mouth set by Cheshire SRTs champion in 2011 completely into oblivion, along with beating his challenger by reaching the total of 23x marshmellows. Cream cracker eating (without a drink) followed, (Again the same two now very competitive players) with last years record of 19x crackers at one go set by CVSRT demolished with a full packet of 28x crackers succumbing to the RPMRT Champion of champions!

The cornflake packet game (you had to be there) came up with four joint winners, two very bendy men and two very bendy women, including Dani from NEWSART and our very own Elaine.

Getting the persons attention prior to throwing a line is important…

By 02.00hrs virtually the whole course was still up, and so threading the broom handle and table rolling saw further champions (And bruises) claim victory ! Eventually bedtime beckoned.

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 Saturday sessions started at 08:30hrs with a trip to nearby Chorley Reservoir, used by Bibbys Farm for water activities, where the use of water throwlines was practised with Bolton MRT team members Andy Kench (A member of the RSPCA Flood Response Team when not out with Bolton MRT) and John Fletcher, (A White Water Rafting Instructor) providing instruction, and Bolton MRT members Steve Fletcher, Martin Banks, Elaine Gilliland along with Alistair Greenough providing for the target practice in the water.

But you are supposed to keep hold of the other end…!

The arrival of a VIP visitor came next in Derek Cartwright, Director of Emergency Services for the North West Ambulance Service, a Bolton man with a long service behind him as an 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 of Emergency Services for the North West Ambulance Service

Next was the arrival of three helicopters, commencing at just after 10.00hrs with the Greater Manchester Police Air Support Unit helicopter ‘India 99’ from the North West Air Operations Group (Police) landing, closely followed by the North West Air Ambulance helicopter, Helimed 72, from City Airport Manchester (Barton) ending with the Lancashire Constabulary Air Support Unit helicopter ‘Oscar November 99’ from the North West Air Operations Group (Police) landing.

Every year a considerable amount of time and effort by our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE and our Training Officer Elaine Gilliland is expended in arranging to get the helicopters involved, and this year we would like to acknowledge the support of Ian Lockhart, Service Delivery Manager of the North West Air Ambulance Charity Trust in gaining approval for Helimeds involvement.

All the trainees were given a very comprehensive briefing on working with and around these helicopters, whilst Bolton MRT and RPMRT members gave the on board, (new to Helimed) NWAA Doctor a comprehensive overview of MRT / SART operations, and following the briefing, we delivered on our promise of a full cooked breakfast to the three helicopter crews present.

We would particularly like to thank all three helicopter crews for making the children of some of the on site Scout staff and of some visiting Bolton MRT members, most welcome once their ‘formal’ presentations had ended. Quite a few children will have had tales to tell on Monday morning at school about how they sat in Air Ambulance and Police helicopters on Saturday!

The team and the course as ever, extends its thanks to GMP and Lancashire Constabulary ASUs of the North West Air Operations Group (Police) and North West Air Ambulance for continuing to support this weekend, and to the crews who attended and 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.

GMP Inspector Graham Peffers

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 and very experienced A&E Charge Nurse Alistair Greenough,
  • Bolton MRT member and very experienced Physiotherapist Ana Toole.

Mountain Rescue stretcher types were then covered by Simon Thresher of CVSRT and Iain Ashcroft of NEWSART.

Late afternoon in glorious autumn sunshine 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. Conditions underfoot were very wet, excellent in fact for the course!

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, grunting and sheer physical hard work (& the odd curse!) it was one they all thoroughly enjoyed.

we did say it was muddy!

Its opportune here to thank James Cropper an Explorer Scout from 25th Bolton, and Duncan Haslam, Assistant District Commissioner (Activities) Bolton South Scout District, 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 their complete naivety is to be admired.

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 SARDA (England) long serving and very experienced Dog Handler Ellie Sherwin from CVSRT, who brought her air scenting dog Pepper along.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 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. Mick 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 Joint GMFRS / Bolton MRT exercises.

GMFRS Dog Handler Mick Dewar

Garry wondering when Elaine is going to stroke his chin like that…

The sessions continued after an all too brief evening meal break with lectures from by Bolton MRT Mike Marsh 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 21.30hrs, 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 22:30hrs, 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 Team Leaders and 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 Most of Rossendale and Pendle MRT managing to stay up somehow to beyond 02.00hrs in the morning.

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 (Rescue) operations, radio communications and “What the MREW Executive does for you.”

We were then visited at 10.30hrs by the NWAS HART (Hazardous Area Response Team) who deployed to the weekend from their Trafford Park Base, bringing with them four of their very specialist vehicles. Somewhat similar to the stacking inside each other ‘Russian Dolls,’ one of their attending vehicles was actually revealed to be the transporter for their ‘Polaris’ All Terrain Vehicle, so they actually attended with five vehicles. Team members were then given interesting presentations on the HART Rescue and casualty Care kit carried on their vehicles present from the four very experienced HART members who attended.

All course members then took part in five practical search & rescue exercises, in the Lower House area of Rivington, with the casualties again being our Scout friends James Cropper and Duncan Haslam, and Bolton MRT providing two team members to oversee each exercise site, brief and debrief on each groups activities.

With the exercises concluded a debrief session took place, attendance certificates were issued and then thanks and bunches of flowers were presented to Bolton MRT Support Group members Sarah Hindle and Laura Tunnicliffe, for feeding us throughout the weekend. They also received tins of chocolates for their appreciated efforts and took away more tins of chocolates for their colleagues who had also attended. It was then time for the ’World Premiere’ of an excellent and highly entertaining DVD that had been filmed and edited throughout the weekend nonstop by Bolton MRT members Steve “why take one digital picture when one thousand will do” Fletcher, and Paul Brain, with Simon Thresher taking on the role of Executive Director. Valued 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 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 five 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.

Next year’s course is at the same venue and will be held over the weekend of Friday 11th October – Sunday 13th October 2013, with all five teams who currently attend already pledging their attendance next year.

Carl Silver, friend of the team and course photographer

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 2013 course.

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

  • The ‘crack.’
  • Working together as a team and very confidence building.
  • Sharing experiences, and seeing the level my team operates at compared to others.
  • The camaraderie and laughs.
  • A busy weekend and a great chance to practice and develop skills.
  • Much greater appreciation of how MR teams work alongside other emergency services.
  • Increased confidence in my own ability.
  • The opportunity to share ideas and experiences.
  • ‘Games’ night brilliant.
  • I can function on very little sleep!
  • Great to see HART and Helimed.
  • Sunday practical sessions were very good.
  • Speakers were excellent, and I learnt a lot from the Fire Search and Rescue Dog Handler.
  • Excellent facilities.
  • The weekend was an exceptional insight into Mountain Rescue.
  • Adventurous, inspirational and brilliant.
  • Bonded with my team more.
  • Talks from Police, Ambulance, HART, SARDA, Helicopters were all enjoyable.
  • Learnt different ways of doing things.
  • A great time and a good opportunity to meet like minded people.
  • Well structured programme that systematically built up to the final day.
  • An interesting and very helpful weekend, i have learnt a lot and it has shown me there is much more to learn.
  • Thanks to all who helped to make it a good few days.
  • Good fun in a great environment.
  • A very steep learning curve and a fantastic amount of information to take in.
  • Hands on, and the helicopters were very cool!
  • A fun and productive educational experience which is a real accolade to the team hosting and assisting in the production of the course.
  • The laughs we had and the socialising.
  • A wonderful course, clearly well organised and full of exciting, interesting and useful sessions.
  • Brilliant talks and visits from individuals and teams that work with SAR teams.
  • A chance to talk with experienced ling standing members about techniques.
  • Enjoyable and tiring.
  • Informative and professionally run.
  • Physically and mentally demanding throughout, but massively enjoyable and educational.
  • Bolton MRT do mountain rescue proud.
  • Sharing different experiences between teams.
  • Great presentations, and fun too.
  • Finding out about how search management works, and having fun developing skills.
  • Great to see common practise amongst teams.
  • Very tiring and very interesting.
  • Enjoyed the experience of the teachers.
  • Non threatening environment, didn’t feel bad about weaknesses.
  • Interesting to see how teams from different locations interacted.
  • Good weekend with a good balance between practical exercises and classroom.
  • Loved the Day 1 stretcher exercise.
  • Absolutely brilliant weekend, jam packed full of great training. Big Thanks xx.

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 important task.

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