It’s hardly an inner city crime spot but danger lurks within Monmouthshire – especially if you take to the county’s mountainous areas without adequate preparation.
We spoke to Lance Paget of Longtown Mountain Rescue team – despite their name they are based in Abergavenny and will don their boots and waterproofs at the drop of a hat if required by their colleagues in the other emergency services.
Only last October they formed part of the massive search for April Jones of Machynlleth after she disappeared from her street.
Over to Lance for answers to our questions:
Hi Lance! Who volunteers to join their local Mountain Rescue team?
Usually people who join the team have an interest in outdoor activities but we have 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.
It’s useful if members have experience in the medical profession, engineering, radio communications, the military, IT and outdoor pursuits. However, no occupation excludes anyone from the team.
What counts is commitment and time to attend training sessions and call-outs.
What kind of training is involved?
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 practiced during regular live exercises in different locations in and around South Wales.
What is your role?
I am a full team member and have been involved in all disciplines for the last 27 years. My specific role nowadays as Search Manager/Incident Controller is coordinating a team response to requests for assistance from other emergency services and rescue teams.
This involves requesting other resources such as help from another mountain rescue team, search dogs, helicopters, in fact any resource that will enable the best response and outcome for a developing incident.
Upon arrival at an incident my colleagues and I who share the role will control the incident with or on behalf of the police.
What hours does the team operate?
The team is available for call-out 24/7 and 365. For example, we’ve been called out midway through Sunday lunch, at 3am on a midweek morning and spent four hours on the Blorenge on Boxing Day – only to find out it was a hoax. Our pagers have interrupted grannies’ birthday parties, visits from the in-laws and rugby internationals.
What advice would you give to anyone contemplating walking the high ground of Monmouthshire?
It is essential that 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
Regular reports on local and national news describe those unfortunate people who have come unstuck because of inadequate preparation.
Do you operate only within mountainous areas?
The team provides a search and rescue facility to five police forces – Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed/Powys, West Mercia and Gloucestershire – and our operations include any terrain – riverside, woodland or rural areas as well as mountainous areas.
We 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.
How can we help?
Firstly you can help the team by being mountain aware – see the answers to question 5 above.
Secondly, you can help the team by donating directly to any mountain rescue fund raising event you come across, log onto our website for donation details, consider gift aid.
You can also consider raising sponsorship and do the Big Black Mountains Challenge* (details below).
What has being a member of the team meant to you on a personal level?
I have been privileged to work with some of the most committed, dedicated and professional people you could wish to meet.
They are, after all, giving up time to help other outdoor people and the communities within the team’s operating area. There is no greater reward than knowing the person you have been searching for has been located, treated, on the way to hospital and that the team made this possible.
Not every search or rescue has a happy outcome, but even on these occasions there is still an element of satisfaction knowing that a family may have closure on a tragic event.
To sum up, my involvement with mountain rescue has been – to use a well-worn but nevertheless apt cliché – the best time of my life. It has given me fantastic friends, purpose and a sense of achievement that is priceless.
Mountain Rescue teams are found across the UK and offer their services with very little help from the state.
Money for equipment and training is raised by the members themselves, through donations, talks, fund raising events and street collections.
From time to time, the Longtown team may receive earmarked funds from, for instance, the Sports Council of Wales for medical kit.
• The Big Black Mountains Challenge, a challenging mountain walking day organised by Longtown Mountain Rescue team, takes place in May. Three walks include 9, 15 and 27 mile routes which will appeal to all, from families to serious trekkers. All funds raised go to the team and provide up to 66% of annual running costs