On a recent brisk Sunday in March, ourselves and Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team visited the beautiful hills of Simonside, near Rothbury for a joint training exercise.
Both teams operate within the Northumbria Police area, working closely together to manage incidents and effectively respond to callouts. Joint training exercises are therefore an essential component of training schedules for both teams so that best practice always prevails when its needed most. Training exercises are often designed to be challenging events, where areas for learning and development can be identified.
In the morning of the training day, various workshop style sessions took place covering different aspects of team operations with team members rotating around each station in small groups.
The sessions included the setup of the control vehicle, which is essentially a mobile control room used to run incidents, the use of drones in search and rescue, updates to rope rescue techniques, radio relay stations, dealing with major trauma injuries and the standard operating procedure for loading stretchers into vehicles.
The afternoon is when the training really heated up. Time to put into practice the skills and knowledge that were refreshed during the morning. Team members new and old along with trainee team members gathered around for a brief. Those who would be controlling the training exercise were called into the control vehicle to set the wheels in motion, metaphorically of course.
The training exercise involved a mock callout for a fallen rock climber sustaining multiple traumatic injuries and for their crag fast climbing partner. The exact location of the incident was unknown, so a small response team known as a hasty party was sent up to the crags of Simonside to see if they could get a visual.
The mobile phone number of the crag fast climber was known, as the person who would have called Mountain Rescue, so a text message was sent to their mobile from control using a piece of technology called Phone Find. This provided control with a grid reference of their location. Time to get going.
Team members were organised into groups and mobilised towards the incident site in team vehicles to carry vital equipment to the exercise casualties. The fallen rock climber in the scenario had sustained traumatic injuries to their pelvis and leg and the crag fast climber would need to be safely lowered to the ground, so various medical and technical rope rescue equipment was needed.
Back in the control vehicle, radio communications were coming and going at quite a pace to keep abreast of the developing situation. This meant that control could hypothetically update other emergency services if required. Due to the serious nature of the fallen climber’s injuries, in this training exercise an exercise air ambulance was requested.
Team members looking after the fallen climber exercise casualty treated and packaged them onto a stretcher, ready for the carry out to the awaiting exercise helicopter. Far from the exercise being over however, the exercise casualty then went into cardiac arrest during the carry out. Always prepared for such eventualities, team members deployed a defibrillator, delivered shocks, monitored their exercise casualty and continued onwards towards the helicopter.
Meanwhile, the team members responding to the crag fast climber had also managed to safely lower their exercise casualty to the ground using up to date rope rescue techniques.
Although a certain amount of imagination is required during training exercises, as a helicopter didn’t really turn up and thankfully the exercise casualty didn’t really go into cardiac arrest, such training exercises are invaluable as they are still realistic. Those team members at the forefront of the exercise would have certainly felt the pressure. For trainee team members, such training offers a fantastic overview of how the teams respond to incidents and present opportunities to get stuck in and learn on the job.
All in all, a long day out but one with several opportunities to fine tune the already superb work that team members, who are all volunteers, demonstrate. There were great efforts all round and moving forwards, there’s time to reflect on how the day progressed, opportunities to discuss events with colleagues and implement any improvements identified.
Last but not least, we were also joined by Gavin Forster from Media Bornewho captured some striking images throughout the day. We wish to say a huge thank you to Gavin for being there and supporting the teams.
Both North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team and Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team are registered charities, run by volunteers and reliant upon kind donations from the public to continue to deliver a vital emergency service response in our region. We are enormously grateful for all donations received.