IT'S THE WEEKEND: The guardian angels of the wild frontier
Longtown Mountain Rescue prepare for a Caves Rescue exercise in South Wales©James Davies Photography (1012200)
A BAND of volunteers is helping to keep Gwent's mountains safe for walkers. KEILIGH BAKER and MEGAN NISBET met the members of Abergavenny's Longtown Mountain Rescue.
ABERGAVENNY-based Longtown Mountain Rescue are the unsung heroes of the emergency response world
Formed in 1965 and based in Abergavenny since 2001, Longtown Mountain Rescue Team is an emergency service staffed entirely by volunteers from all walks of life who freely give up their time.
The team averages around 30 call outs a year, and is made up of 40 male and female volunteers, who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They cover a range of 520 square miles, 800ft above sea level in the heart of the Black Mountains. . The main summits are over 2000ft (610m) high and the whole area is of varied terrain from open moorland to dense forests and barren peaks. The team is not confined to the mountainous regions, and operate in lowlands and urban areas if necessary, as far north as the southern reaches of Snowdonia and south to the Bristol Channel.
All members are volunteers, and they rely almost entirely on donations. Though the team are based in Abergavenny, they were originally formed in Longtown, Herefordshire in 1965. But in October 2001 they moved to their current base in Abergavenny, close to Nevill Hall Hospital. The new base gave the team greater flexibility in providing training, storage and kit, and it provides an essential facility for the team, as it provides rooms for training, storage for essential rescue equipment, battery charging and a garage for the team’s Landrover. In 2004 the team had raised sufficient funds to purchase a new Control Vehicle which after a refit to meet the requirements of the team became operational in June 2004.
Maintained by fundraising and volunteers, the team are used regularly to help out the police, not only when their expertise is needed but also at any incidents that require their assistance. October 2012 saw the team play an important role in the search for April Jones, working alongside established response groups, throughout the nights in appalling conditions.
One of their most important tasks is to work in conjunction with the police and other agencies, to locate and recover lost or injured individuals from remote places in the Black Mountains and surrounding area. However, they also assist the police in searching for missing young or vulnerable individuals in urban areas where available police resources are limited and the situation is urgent.
Providing a professional and effective service, while constantly in a state of readiness to deploy at a moments notice, requires each member to train on a regular basis to maintain the necessary skill levels in first aid and search and rescue techniques. Members of the team have to train regularly in first aid and search rescue skills; these include knowledge of day and night navigation, casualty care, crag skills and an in depth understanding of the equipment used.
The team is made up of volunteers from a number of backgrounds, including doctors, paramedics, an estate agent, a chartered surveyor and a vet. At the time of our interview the team had just returned from a rescue on the Sugarloaf, a mountain near Abergavenny, where a woman had slipped and broken her ankle.
Usually people who join the team have an interest in outdoor activities, although the team has recruited men and women without such experience. The training everyone undertakes ensures full team members are competent and it is in line with the national requirements of Mountain Rescue England and Wales.
Training given to all new members – whether or not they have previous outdoor experience – embraces the theory of navigation, radio communications, rope work, crag rescue, water and land search techniques, medical assessment and treatment and the use of specialist equipment.
Knowledge gained is practised during regular live exercises in different locations in and around South Wales.
Alternatively members of the public help the team by taking part in the annual charity event the Big Black Mountain Challenge, an annual fund raising event usually held in May. The event consists of a choice of three testing walks/runs of 43km, 29km and 16km between them taking in 15 summits over 660m around the breathtaking scenery of the Black Mountains. The event starts and finishes at Llanthony Priory located in the Honddu Valley in the Vale of Ewyas.
This event is held every May and consists of walks or runs of various lengths and all proceeds go to the Longtown Mountain Rescue Team; this May almost 800 people joined the team on the expedition.
The team provides a search and rescue facility to five police forces – Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed/Powys, West Mercia and Gloucestershire, and operations include any terrain – riverside, woodland or rural areas as well as mountainous areas.
Longtown Mountain Rescue also respond to direct requests for assistance to other mountain rescue teams and therefore could find ourselves anywhere in Wales and the Marches, south of a line from Machynlleth to Shrewsbury.
Paul ‘Luke’ Lewis, 57, from Blaenavon, is a deputy team leader. He said: “The reason we have such a big team is because not everyone will be able to make the call out. Today for instance I was working in Bristol so I couldn’t come along, but there are other team leaders who could attend. You make it work, basically. I have a good relationship with my manager.
“We have a fund raising team who co-ordinate our efforts in various ways to raise the necessary funds. Throughout the year the team raise funds in many different ways including our annual sponsored event Big Black Mountains Challenge, going at various shows, presentations to local schools organisations and events often involving special challenges for team members. We also rely on the kind generosity of the public for donations and sponsorship.
“We have members of all different ages, although we don’t tend to take on under 20s because of the nature of what we have to deal with. It’s a very interesting job. I got into it by doing a charity walk in 1990 and someone said to give it a go. We train two nights a month and a Sunday a month.”
The volunteers are all medically trained to a high level and can give box splints, administer morphine and gases.
Glyn Jones, 57, a doctor from Newport, has been a volunteer for three years. He and another doctor on the team carry out the medical training and teaches the others. He said: “The most common type of injury we see is to the lower leg. We see a lot of sprains, where people cannot move, to broken bones. In those situations the team will give them pain relief and split it. We then carry them either to the air ambulance or down to the Landrover and convey them to hospital.
“Three times a year we have a weekend-long training exercise where team members treat casualties and others act as patients.
“We also see heart attacks, asthma attacks, cuts, chest pains and suicides. Quite often people will go out walking and the environment is a lot more challenging than people think. We do see cases of hypothermia when their temperature goes down really fast when they stop walking.
“It all depends. Sometimes we get hypothermic cases too, when people overheat and then dehydrate. A lot of people go out and think they know where they are going, and get lost. It only takes some rain and in particular snow and familiar landmarks soon disappear.”
The team also searches for people with depression who go missing and people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the stars of thee team is search dog Keeper, a fully trained six-year-old collie cross.
Mr Lewis said: “The dogs are really well trained, everything from search techniques and avalanche areas to scenting. Every time there is a dog available and we are on a search we will take one with us. They are unbelievable. One dog is the equivalent of about 40 searchers in terms of an area they can cover. A dog can cover a large area in an hour which would normally take 40 searchers.”
Treasurer Martin Elliot, 49, from Llanviangel Crucorney said: “The amount we receive form the government every year is on average about £2,000. IT costs £25,000 a year for the MRT to run at a bare minimum, which is why fundraising is so important to us.”
To ensure you are safe and well while out walking, follow these essential tips;
It is important you realise your own capabilities and fitness as well as be effectively equipped for very challenging conditions and terrain. Warm, waterproof clothing and boots are essential as well as the following:
knowledge of how to use map and compass
spare clothing, food and drink for the day
a torch with spare batteries, a whistle and emergency shelter or survival bag.
checking the weather forecast
a mobile phone – but do not assume that you’ll have a signal at all times
letting someone know your route and timing details
BLOB Longtown MRT provides an emergency rescue service for anyone who is lost or injured in the mountains, rural or urban environment for whatever reason. They are self funding and operate 24/7 in all weather conditions, staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers. If you would like more information visit www.longtownmrt.org.uk/index or to donate visit www.justgiving.com/longtownmrt
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