WI Host John Whittle Illustrated Talk For Mountain Rescue Fundraiser

John Whittle of Penrith Mountain Rescue showing us the extent of their catchment area.

John Whittle of Penrith Mountain Rescue (PMR) showing us the extent of their area of jurisdiction and some of the varied terrain that lies within it.

On March 31st 2014 at Maulds Meaburn Institute, the Women’s Institute hosted an excellent illustrated presentation fundraiser by John Whittle, very recently retired as Chair of The Penrith Mountain Rescue (PMR). The WI laid on a mouthwatering spread for after the talk and held a raffle, all profits going to the PMR. The MMVI laid on bar services.

John spoke on the theme of the PMR’s work, in the course of which he personally has participated in 281 rescues over a period of 10 years. The focus of his talk was what you should do when things go wrong and what happens in the rescue process.

John introduced Mountain Rescue as the fourth emergency service. He said there are 52 Mountain Rescue groups that have the same badge in a federation: The Mountain Rescue of England and Wales. The organisation is entirely voluntary and relies entirely upon donations to function. PMR was founded in 1959 and were initially called the WHCA.  They used to bring people down on improvised stretchers, even gates! Now they have sophisticated gear, two long-wheel based Landrovers and a Peugeot Command centre van that can carry 9 people.

John dispelled the myth of “the Asian woman in high heels” being the common rescue subject. PMR have had an average of over 40 call-outs each year, most involving searches for lost people and not just in the mountains. The wackiest call out was in Carlisle, the nearest to his home was Beacon Edge but PMR are often needed in mountainous terrain and sometimes in very remote locations. The area of PMR’s jurisdiction is 25,000 sq Km: the perimeter starts near Moffat, goes through Kielder Forest, Hadrian’s wall, South Tyne [in Co. Durham] through Cow Green, Shap and Haweswater, taking the Roman Road up to Pooley Bridge, Caldbeck and up to the Solway.

The hotspot for PMR seems to be just past Dufton; some visitors take the Pennine Way and then give out there; some foreign guidebooks (notably German and Dutch) are misleading and people get in trouble in the same places.

In all, the National Park has about 11 million visitors per year, that represents about 22 million fell walks, with local walkers in the mix you can probably double that. Total call-outs last year were about 750 so when you consider the ratio of numbers walking to the numbers of problems, fell walking is actually quite a safe pass-time!

PMR attended 32 call-outs in 2013, 13 were rescues, 18 were searches and 1 was an animal rescue involving 2 Trail hounds.  In all 1145 person hours were used; that doesn’t include their training.

He says that the number of call-outs is falling-off slightly and he puts this down to two likely factors:

  • The ongoing educational outreach activity, John estimates that about 10,000 people in Cumbria over the last 10 years have been talked to.  People are starting to become educated about fell walking and guest houses are sharing the key information.
  • People can get better kit now and for less money.

This year the Govt. is contributing £250,000 to  Mountain Rescue, which is a useful cash injection to be divided between the groups. The PMR takes £30,000 to run annually and that is provided entirely by donations.  People are putting up direct debits, sending cheques, including PMR in their wills etc.  PMR do 4 days a year collecting in Tebay.

One person’s kit can cost £1200 (jacket £300, trousers £90, radios, hats, gloves); just getting jackets for 40 people can cost £12,000. Some fuel and maintenance is gifted, electronics are often provided by sympathetic companies, charities help look after them.  This year the Rotary [Club] are sponsoring PMR, which represents a valuable contribution.

In Cumbria roughly 75% of the Mountain Rescues that happen in the PMR jurisdiction, have as their main cause  poor planning and poor navigation, but John stressed that a twisted ankle can happen to anyone and that if you do get into trouble then you’ll be a lot happier if you’re well prepared.

He told us that “there is no golden hour”, expect PMR to be with you in an hour and a half if all goes well.

He said the question to ask yourself is “how are you going to look after yourself and those with you?”

John Whittle of Penrith Mountain Rescue with the 12 lb back-pack that contains a formidable survival kit for Fell Walking.

John Whittle of Penrith Mountain Rescue with the 12 lb back-pack that contains a formidable survival kit for Fell Walking.

John surprised us by saying that less than half of the people he had rescued had had a pack with them; this was a pity because a properly equipped pack would have made a big difference to their experience and he was profoundly impressed by the effect that this wait has on people. It usually takes at least 90 minutes for PMR teams to get to the person needing help. This can seem a very long time. Keeping warm is very important.

He produced his own 12 lb rucksack and showed us how much useful stuff he packs into it.

Things to bring in your pack:

  1. Mobile phone, charged and with credit; a £5 roaming sim card will work from any providers’ signal. He demonstrated that he could get a 3G Vodafone signal within the Maulds Meaburn Village Institute.
  2. Latex gloves (in case you have to help someone)
  3. A buff or scarf
  4. Hats
  5. Gloves

    Good preparation can make all the difference if things go wrong.

    Good preparation can make all the difference if things go wrong.

  6. Whistle (to signal distress give 6 blasts, then pause, 6 blasts, then pause; don’t let kids play with it.)
  7. Compass (in his own survey 86% of people asked carry a compass, but only 16% feel they know how to use it, so he suspects they have talismanic value for some folk. 🙂
  8.  Indelible marker (used for writing coordinates for another person or yourself)
  9. Sitting pad (a simple small yoga matt is perfect) to insulate you from the cold ground.
  10. Black, waterproof/windproof jacket and trousers.
  11. Spare clothes
  12. Goodie bag (a spare pair of reading glasses, reflective jacket, good [preferably head] torch, light sticks, chocolate or snacks, space blanket, knife, first aid kit [including soluble aspirin—which is good for a heart attack, bad for a stroke], face mask for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation)
  13. Bothy tent
  14. Sam splints
  15. Sticky bandage
  16. Waterproof liner for your backback
  17. Silk-llined gloves (they are very insulative)
  18. Waterproof map
  19. Aspirin for use in heart attack cases, NOT STROKES

He said in the event of something going seriously wrong you should prepare information about your statusand call 999.

The questions you must be ready to provide answers to are:

  1. Where are you? (give grid reference with letters in front for example NY)
  2. Who are you with?
  3. What is your address?
  4. Who else is with you?
  5. What situation are you dealing with?
  6. What are you wearing?
  7. Do you have children with you?
  8. Is there someone with you with a medical history?

Call 999 and ask for Carlton Hall and say you need Penrith Mountain Rescue.  The wrong answer to give the operator is “I need an ambulance” because an ambulance won’t get to you.

Stay put,do not move from your location and try to stay warm.  The PMR leader will call you back.  Smart phones can be pinged and the location grid reference given back to PMR.  There are apps now  for your smart phone which are useful in giving grid references and ones that have a compass; ones that have maps (1:25,000 scale); such as View Ranger.

The PMR are qualified and equipped to provide enhanced first aid on the fell side, they can splint broken bones, deliver morphine, even strap someone up securely in a full body pack. It takes 8-12 people to stretcher somebody down a mountain. They slide the stretcher more often than not. It’s not high heroics, John says, it’s often cold, wet and miserable ‘purgatory’ but the rescued are so very grateful and appreciative. Many go on to become donors.

The PMR team consists of 40 men and women and the average age is 47. PMR is always interested in more volunteers.They don’t want excitable people, cool and calm is the way to go. The youngest age accepted is 18 and the oldest is 70.  Training in radios is given, Land Rovers, there’s a rigorous and thorough induction process; you have to already be well experienced in mountaineering before admission to the training.

The majority of members join because they have had good times out of the hills and they want to give something back.

John says that generally the women are best at “talking to the head” and the men tend to be best at using splints and operating the machinery. They have 3 dogs on their team. There are 14 trained rescue dogs altogether in the Lake District; and one dog on a search is worth 50 to 100 people depending upon the prevailing conditions. The dogs can see in the dark 20-30 times better than humans, move at speed and cover a lot of ground.

One of their dogs is currently undergoing “trailing training”; this dog will be the second in Britain to be trained to this degree (smelling for scent).  Our scent can remain in the [landscape] for up to 3 days.  Dottie, a 7 year-old, is the most experienced, Mollie and Dram are the other dogs; they are all SARDA trained.  MR dogs work 7 to 8 years and dog handlers are specialists and do nothing else.

PMR volunteers receive calls by mobile phone and respond by text with their ETA. John says he’s usually the first to arrive at the vehicles. The most dangerous aspect of the PMR is the Land Rover! They are beefed up with roll-bars to give the members better protection.

John handed out information cards to those present. After the talk he enjoyed a vigorous round of applause and then tea and refreshments were served. It was a fine event.

Super refreshments by the WI

Super refreshments by the WI

Haweswater Fells

Weather can change fast in the Fells.

You can learn more about Penrith Mountain Rescue from their website http://www.penrithmrt.org.uk/

Also you might be interested in my account of John’s talk in July 2013   https://lvcpnews.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/beyond-first-aid-penrith-mountain-rescue-talk-inspires-us-at-maulds-meaburn-village-institute/

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