Completion of 2015 Bolton Mountain Rescue Team Foundation Course in Mountain Rescue weekend

For the eleventh year running, starting on Friday evening 9th October and running through to the late afternoon of Sunday 11th October, the Bolton Mountain Rescue 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 organised and supported by Bolton MRT, in terms of exercise venues, arranging exercise casualties, supplying equipment, utilising all our vehicles and full course catering.

IMG_3957The excellent course catering was provided with huge thanks to four members of the Bolton MRT Support Group, Iain Clarkson and Julie Thompson who both 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 food purchases and team call out list member Kris ‘Cinderella’ Kilshaw, who was relegated to washing up duties on Saturday evening)

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.

IMG_4036The course also serves to increasingly demonstrate through its varied programme, multi agency, co-operative working with regards to operational incidents.

The course content revolves around mountain rescue techniques and experiences, but is always open to colleagues from our sister organisation, ALSAR (Association of Lowland Search and Rescue)

The course instructors and group mentors were drawn as usual from the teams attending this year’s and immediate past courses, and included a core group of very experienced instructors who have been associated with this course over the many years of its existence.

IMG_4095The full time principal instructors and mentors in residence involved eight 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 past guest lecturer on Irish Mountain Rescue Association training courses, Alistair Greenough, our Team Training Officer, Nick Berry, Team Equipment Officer – Ropes and Stretchers Nigel Booth, Team Equipment Officer – Communications and IT Steve Fletcher, Team Equipment Officer – Water David Cook, and our Training Logbook Editor Michael Wakerley.

From North East Wales Search and Rescue Team (NEWSAR) came Paul ‘Pouch’ Smethurst, Team Leader Simon Lane and Deputy Team Leader Rick Lane, plus their Chairman Robbie Davies, all three from Cheshire SAR, Chairman Paul Chamberlain from Norfolk LSAR and finally not forgetting  long term course supporter, instructor and valued friend of our team Assistant Team Leader Simon Thresher from Calder Valley SRT.

IMG_4098Former long serving and very experienced Bolton MRT member Gyles Denn also kindly gave up his time to instruct and mentor over this weekend.

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 at various times included Gillian Leigh, Diane Blakeley – who kept all our readers informed via a constant stream of ‘Course Tweets,’ Chris ‘David Bailey’ Tennant, Equipment Officer – Base and Catering Paul Copley, Gary Melia, Team Treasurer Martin Banks, Deputy Team Leader Chris Greenhalgh and Samantha McKay – who although not present on the actual course, helped load up everything for the start on Friday, and the unloading of everything back at our Base / HQ on the Sunday.

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.

A total of 27x Trainee MRT & SRT members attended this year’s course from seven teams.

  • 9x from Cheshire Search and Rescue Team, from our companion organisation the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue – ALSAR
  • 5x from North East Wales Search and Rescue Team
  • 5x from Bolton Mountain Rescue Team; Rasti Schweizer, Heath Doran, Matthew Morris, Steve James and Neil Haigh.
  • 1x from Sufolk Lowland search and Rescue Team.
  • 1x from Bay Search and Rescue Team.
  • 2x from Merseyside Lowland Search and Rescue Team.
  • 4x from Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue Team, also from our companion organisation the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue – ALSAR


The trainees present, were split into six groups, each under the direction of two experienced mentors drawn from Bolton MRT, Norfolk LSAR, Cheshire SART, Calder Valley SRT and NEWSART.

DSCF0708Friday evenings proceedings commenced with two introductory DVDs 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 with attached packets of sweets, and due no doubt to the relative clear conditions, though there was an autumnal chill in the air, it came as no great surprise that the trainees found every bottle and in the field.

DSCF0713A late Friday evening finish to the course programme at 22.15hrs, was followed by what we always describe as ‘intense team member interaction under the influence of alcohol’ between all present on the course as midnight came and went.

Our poor colleagues from Norfolk LSAR who had taken some six hours on average to attend this weekend, and just wanted to get some bed rest rapidly realised that sleep deprivation was to be a big feature of this course!

The morning dawned all too quickly, with a very early morning wake up call for breakfast at 07:00, 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 lecture on water safety awareness / bankside safety by Chairman and Swiftwater Rescue Technician Paul Chamberlain from Norfolk LSAR providing an instructive and informative lecture.

DSCF0719The arrival of a VIP visitor came next in Derek Cartwright, Director of Operations for the entire North West Ambulance Service, a Bolton man with a long service behind him as an Emergency Ambulance man (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 was assisted and accompanied in his presentation by Ian Middleton who is an Operational Manager for NWAS (Greater Manchester Area), and Andrew (Andy) Redgrave, Community Engagement Manager and Mountain Rescue Liaison Officer with NWAS (Greater Manchester Area)

P1060813Next was the arrival of helicopters at 10.00hrs from the National Police Air Service, callsign ‘NPAS 21,’ from City Airport Manchester (Barton) , and at 10.15hrs Helimed 72 from the North West Air Ambulance, City Airport Manchester (Barton), both landing on site.

Subsequently Pilot / Captain Al Bryers and his colleague Paramedic aircrew Lizzie Morley, Paramedic aircrew Simon Stephens and Aircrew Doctor Kelly Morley from NWAA Helimed 72 G-NWew, and Pilot Captain David Bunce, and Police Tactical Flight Officers PC Rob Wilson  and PC Simon Aspden, from NPAS 21 G-GMPX gave a great presentation on the work of Helimed and NPAS, the kit carried and the incidents they attend.

Every year a considerable amount of time and effort by our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE is expended in arranging to get the NWAA Helimed helicopter and the NPAS aircraft involved, and this year we would like to acknowledge the support of Mark Evans, Clinical Service Manager of the North West Air Ambulance Charity Trust in gaining approval for Helimeds involvement, and to all at NPAS 21 for very kindly arranging and agreeing for NPAS ‘Barton’ to take part this Saturday.

IMG_4145Arriving at this same time, was the Pump Fire Appliance from GMFRS Horwich Community Fire Station, and a Pump Fire Appliance from LFRS Chorley Fire Station, with their respective crews and Watch Manager GMFRS Red Watch, Glyn McGann, and LFRS Watch Manager Jim Davison.

All the trainees present were split in to various small groups, which in rotation went around the two pump appliances and helicopters, to gain a close up appreciation of these important resources which we regularly work alongside.

GMP Police Officers PCs Jane Wilcock and Melanie Jackson, also visited the course to say hello to everybody, and reminisce about their time on last years course.

We would particularly like to thank the helicopter crews and Fire crews for making the children 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 a Police helicopter, Air Ambulance or ‘Fire Engines’ on Saturday!

The team and the course as ever, extends its thanks to NPAS, NWAA, GMFRS and LFRS for their valued support and contribution to this weekend, and to the crews who attended and gave excellent presentations to those present on the work of their services. (All of course being rewarded by the now famous Bolton MRT cooked breakfast freely offered!)


The purpose of such guest organisations attending this course allows the trainees to interact with the crews and to ask questions specifically as to how the MRTs and SRTs can assist in working together with such important resources and assets. In turn the on duty crews attending were grateful of the opportunity to meet our members and display their varied equipment carried on board the helicopters and Fire Appliances present.

Both Helimed 72 and NPAS 21 departed, after the usual course photographs, with a spirited flypast

IMG_4229Next up was long time friend and valued supporter of this course and Bolton MRT, PC Ian Crossley, a very experienced Police Missing Person Search Manager and POLSA (Police Search Advisor) formerly of the Greater Manchester Police Specialist Search Unit, Tactical Aid Unit, and now with the North West Police Underwater Search and Marine Unit, who attended with PC Liz Smith, also of the NWPUSMU.

Both outlined the Police Service expectations of MRTs/SRTs, with Ian outlining his considerable personal experiences of working with MRTs/SRTs on operational search incidents and training exercises, followed by an excellent presentation on the interesting work of the north west Police Underwater Search and Marine Unit.

Their excellent presentations included many references to search operations known to many of the longer serving Bolton MRT team members present on the course.

The trainees present were then introduced to Mountain Rescue stretcher types covered by Simon Thresher of CVSRT, our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE and Nick Berry of Bolton MRT.

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The other split group session was a casualty care session covering Casualty Care Primary Survey and Spinal Injury Management, including the use of Cervical Collars, Scoop Stretchers, Vacuum Mattresses, Long Boards and Head Blocks, under the expert instruction provided by Bolton MRT Training Officer and very experienced A&E Charge Nurse Alistair Greenough, and Bolton MRT Equipment Officer – ropes and Stretchers Nigel Booth, who is also a full time GMFRS Fire fighter / Watch Manager.

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An excellent lunch then set everyone up for the next group sessions out on the local moorlands.


By this stage, Bolton MRT team member Diane Blakeley was sending out a constant ‘Twitter’ stream of reports on the weekends activities, with a record number of re-tweets.

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.

DSCF0731Here the course was joined by the Duty crew and their Fire Appliance from LFRS Darwen Fire Station, who were observing the exercise and our steep ground stretcher handling methods.

Conditions on the steep ground exercise underfoot were very slippery and wet underfoot, excellent in fact for the course!

For some of our trainee colleagues from Cheshire SRT and particularly (As you would imagine) Norfolk LSAR and Suffolk LSART, this very steep ground stretcher handling work is a complete new experience and despite the sweating, grunting and sheer physical hard work and wet feet from the many boggy bits, (& the odd curse!) it was one they all thoroughly enjoyed.

IMG_4511The trainee member attending from Bay SART was meanwhile adamant their Hagglunds would have made short thrift of the steep ground!

The patches of dead thistles managed to penetrate one too many of the nether regions and other delicate parts of some of those taking part, with our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE trying to emulate Simon Threshers perfect running descent of a steep shale face, ending up in a dirty and muddy ‘bumslide’ for Garry!

Its opportune here to thank Bolton MRT team member Nick Berry and his friend Chris Jones, who ‘volunteered’ (or rather were volunteered) to be the exercise casualties for this session and went on to put their complete trust and faith in the hands of the trainees present. Ahh their complete naivety is to be admired (and Mr Berry is now being put on a weight loss programme!)

IMG_4727All then returned to Bibby’s Farm where there followed an excellent presentation on the use of search dogs in the UK, by former Mountain Rescue Trailing Dog Handler Ian Nicolson, and just retired Mountain Rescue Air Scenting Dog Handler Alison Nicolson drawing on their many years as active and very successful Mountain Rescue Search Dog Handlers, with Trailing Search Dog Mij and Air Scenting search Dog Floss.

With such an intensive programme, the late evening meal break was very brief, with an excellent as ever three course meal served up to the over 50x people present on the course at this stage!

The sessions then continued with lectures from Bolton MRT Mike Marsh, and Gyles Denn, on the differences between lowland and upland search operations.


This was followed by Glyes Denn, who drawing upon his time as a Forensic Toxicologist with the former Home Office Forensic Service, outlined to all present an interesting presentation on forensic Protocols for Search and Rescue operations, and crime scene awareness.

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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!

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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 ‘representatives’ of each team present vying with each other to gain the ‘respected’ battle honours of staying up late till the early hours of the morning.

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Cheshire SART capitulated at 01.30hrs soundly beaten by the threesome of Bolton MRT Trainee team member Heath Doran, Bolton MRT member Michael Wakerley and our Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, who by 02.00hrs was starting to resemble a walking zombie for lack of sleep!

IMG_4971Prior to this, some trainees decided to do what everyone should do, given this venue is a Scout camp, and built themselves a camp fire to sit out by!

Sunday morning dawned too quickly for some – although our Team Leader did have a lazy lie in, with Bolton MRT Training Officer Alistair Greenough and Simon Thresher covering mountain rescue ‘spot pick up / rescue incidents.’

The lecture presentations carried on with Bolton MRT member Steve Fletcher, that font of all knowledge radios and IT thingies, regarding radio communications usage in search and rescue operations.

A short comfort break, then saw all head to the car park area, where they were met by the NWAS HART team from Manchester, and four of their very impressive specialist vehicles, with thanks to On Duty HART Team Leader Justin Mawtus and his colleagues.

IMG_4977On display was their Incident Support Unit, Land Rover Discovery (“the USAR Truck”) Incident Response Unit and their Nissan Response Vehicle (and somewhat like a Russian Doll, contained within the Incident Support vehicle was their Polaris All Terrain Vehicle.

Come 11.30hrs all then departed in the team vehicles present to the Lower House area of Rivington.

Here all course members then took part in seven practical search & rescue exercises, still in the Lower House area of Rivington, organised and co-ordinated by Bolton MRT member Mike Marsh, with Bolton MRT providing team members to oversee six of the exercise sites, brief and debrief on each groups activities.

A seventh site, with Paul Chamberlain of Norfolk LSAR instructing, started with an outdoor session covering water throwline practice, with as usual much fun and mickey taking to be had with the many unfortunates who flung bags every where but where intended, and the few who forgot to hold on to the end of the rescue line!

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During this time at Lower House, Rivington, the course was visited by Bolton MRT Deputy Team Leader Chris Greenhalgh.

Exercise casualties for these exercises all came from the 25th Bolton Scout Group, and included with thanks; James Magnall, Joseph Cropper, Ciaran Clare, Siobhan Clare and John Clare.

IMG_6562With the exercises concluded, all returned to Bibbys, for a very late lunch at 15.20hrs and a course debrief session, attendance certificates were then issued and thanks to all who had taken part and helped over the weekend were made.

It was then time for the exclusive ‘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, Chris ‘David Bailey’ Tennant, Executive Producer Paul Brain, with Michael Wakerley taking on the role of Mr Paparazzi.

Valued Team supporter and much appreciated friend Carl Silver also provided considerable photographic material from the two days with the team on the Saturday and Sunday of this course. (With sincere thanks to him for allowing us to use many of his pictures to accompany this report)

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 Mike Marsh and Michael Wakerley for undertaking this year’s revision of the manual) At this point it is also appropriate to thank Bolton MRT Treasurer Martin Banks,  for his assistance in arranging the printing this manual.

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.

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Next year’s course is at the same venue and will be held again as ever over a full weekend on Friday night 7th October to Sunday 9th October 2016, with all seven MRTs / SRTs who attended this year already pledging their attendance next year, and our colleagues Rossendale and Pendle MRT hopefully rejoining us next year with some of their Trainees, and at least eight Trainee places already provisionally booked!

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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 2016 course, that’s if we have any spare places available!

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

  • Working with other teams.
  • Enjoyed the weekend.
  • Great people, great experience, great food.
  • Great group mixes.
  • Great weekend but MRTs need to learn to drink more !
  • Really got to see how other teams worked.
  • A great opportunity to work together with different organisations, learn from their key strengths and take it back to my own team.
  • Great common approach and friendship – very refreshing.
  • Mentally and physically challenging.
  • Instruction was brilliant.
  • Great being amongst others with a common goal.


  • Feeling part of the wider MRT team.
  • Learnt a lot of stuff I can take back to my own team.
  • The importance of teamwork and what comes with this is the need to quickly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team members especially when you hardly know them.
  • The challenge of working with multiple scenarios and the knowledge imparted from the lectures.
  • Camaraderie and a common goal.
  • Stretcher exercise was great.
  • Networking with other teams.
  • Good collaborative training opportunities.
  • The positive way  knowledge was passed on.
  • The encouragement and very positive way our mentors behaved.


  • I enjoyed all the practical work.
  • A superb weekend, and the real sense of ‘team.’
  • Excellent CPD and refresher opportunity.
  • Good team building, good networking, Hard work but rewarding.
  • Great insight in to other professional bodies we could end up working with in the future.
  • I learnt an awful lot in a short space of time.
  • Great instruction.


  • Derek Cartwright and the Underwater Police Unit presentations were a hit.
  • Busy, fun, tired and socials.
  • Consolidating skills, having more confidence to put skills in to action.
  • Special thanks to all the Instructors, Support Group, Organisers, Drivers, Exercise planners, Photographers, Exercise Casualties, Visiting Agencies and Bolton Team Leader for putting in so much effort and planning.
  • Meeting other agencies helped to dispel myths.
  • Well – what can be improved!


  • Playing different roles in all the group exercises on Sunday.
  • Hearing from experts in their field – HART, Helimed, Dogs, Forensics, etc.
  • Mentors were great.
  • Full on!
  • I’ve experienced a step change in my knowledge.
  • I feel more prepared for real life situations.
  • Good to see how Police, Fire and Ambulance appreciate the work of the MRTs.
  • I enjoyed all the speakers.
  • Very informative.


  • Working as a team with people who were strangers at first.
  • A great weekend and a great time.
  • Nice combination of practical and theory.
  • Excellent instructors, very knowledgeable.
  • Lecture material very interesting.
  • Stretcher exercise was tiring but challenging.
  • Great information passed on from some committed people.
  • Fun, fun, fun.
  • Great inter team mingling and meeting new challenges.
  • Learning how we may work together better in the future.
  • An interesting and enjoyable weekend.
  • Course content and instruction exemplary.
  • Exchange of ideas and meeting new people in MR.
  • Fun packed, detailed and varied, great demonstrations and quality of instruction ‘spot on.’


  • Who clipped my rucksac to the drainpipe ?
  • Great mix of experience.
  • Good mix of experience and people.
  • Intense but fun learning, a good variety of activities both practical and action based, which kept interest and enthusiasm levels high.
  • The hill work on Saturday, it was creative thinking regarding the use of kit and equipment and I would definitely use the techniques learnt.
  • New skill sets to think about when using stretchers.
  • Learning new skills about Mountain Rescue to then use in Lowland SART.
  • Hard going but very worth while, an eye opener and a better appreciation of mountain rescue teams.
  • Fantastic course to broaden skills within SAR teams.
  • Stepped outside my comfort zone.
  • I enjoyed the attitude of the instructors, and the vast scope of topics covered.
  • Highlighted areas to improve and strengths.
  • The visits from other agencies putting what we do in context.
  • The weekend was great to share best practice.
  • The teams are all well respected by the other services, which was nice to see, and it helped to make us feel part of the wider practice.
  • More courses like this please.

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 six of our vehicles used on the weekend.

To those from Bolton MRT involved in organising this course we extend a 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.