Life-saving volunteers whatever the weather

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

MOEL Arthur is enveloped in darkness.

It is 8pm and it is icy cold.

On the lower slopes of the mountain, a woman has fallen and hurt her leg, she may have also suffered a back injury.

The volunteers from North East Wales Search and Rescue (NEWSAR) are taking no chances as they ensure that the woman is comfortable and take all precautions to ensure that the injuries that she has sustained are not made any worse by moving her.

Thankfully, this is a training exercise. But, although they were laughing and joking just a few minutes earlier, the members of the team are now taking the task very seriously.

Each member is highly trained, specifically in five ‘core competencies’: navigation, crag (technical rope rescue), first aid, communications, and search, which it takes about two years to learn fully.

There are different roles to be undertaken in this training exercise as there would be in a real life situation, but every one of them is able to do any of the jobs they may be called upon to do.

Huw Birrell, deputy team leader, is from Wrexham. A retired police officer, Huw has been a search and rescue volunteer for 37 years, working with NEWSAR for the past 12.

“It’s a registered charity and it’s all voluntary,” he explained. “We have on the call out list around 35 volunteers at any one time and we are on call 24/7, 365 days of the year. Last year we did 63 call outs and our members have been involved in 12 already this year.

“We might be called out to look for people with dementia who have gone missing, people who are depressed and have gone off, people who go walking in the hills and break their leg. Last week we were called out to a lady who had gone walking with friends on Moel Famau. They had got lost in the mist, took the wrong track and come down to some steep gradient slopes and she had badly broken her leg.

“We were called by the police at 4.35pm and we arrived on the scene a short time later, roughly the same time that the police helicopter arrived.

“She was given first aid at the scene by ourselves and taken to hospital in the police helicopter.”

The team work with the emergency services, RAF search and rescue and the other search and rescue teams in North Wales. NEWSAR’s area stretches from Llandrillo in Colwyn Bay to Cheshire and from the coast to Mid-Wales, south of Newtown.

They deal all manner of incidents.

“In this area, Moel Famau, we’ve dealt with mountain bikers who have been injured, families who have gone astray, people who have come here intending to commit suicide,” Huw continued.

“We might get called out to a flood – we are trained for both swift water and when a town floods. We were at Llandrillo a few weeks ago for the farmer who had sadly died in his car and we’ve done several body recoveries from rivers.”

While some of the incidents that NEWSAR attend are tragic ones, there have also been numerous successful rescues.

“We find some people who are quite remarkable,” Huw said.

“They put up with severe pain and still manage to have a sense of humour.

“You look at them and think ‘how are you doing it?’

“It’s always great when you have a successful search for someone who is lost, we turn up and all they need is a kind word, a butty and a hot drink.”

The team includes people from all sorts of backgrounds and they are currently recruiting new members.

“We’ve got everyone from a bespoke furniture maker to a tax man, a paramedic and a number of people who are retired,” Huw said.

“This is great because they are available in the day.

“We’re all on call but obviously work can sometimes be difficult. Years ago we got a call out and everybody would down tools and come out.

“These days it’s not as easy midweek to get people out. We had one event that was attended by four pensioners and a team leader.”

While it is a cold night on Moel Famau, it is nothing compared to the conditions the team have faced in real life situations.

“We’ve assisted the ambulance service in bad weather and have gone out to some very rural locations in the snow and blizzards,” Huw added.

“We’ve also done mountain rescues locally and in Snowdonia in some atrocious conditions and that’s where skill and expertise come in.”

- NEWSAR is a voluntary organisation that costs more than £15,000 a year to run. As such, it relies on donations from members of the public. Go to www.newsar.org.uk to find out how you can help.

See full story in the Leader

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