On hand to save Slemish climbers from St Patrick’s Day stumbles, North West Mountain Rescue (NWMR) gave the Mail a taste of what they do - and we were impressed.
With 29 rescues from mountains across Ireland in 2015 as well as racking up a total of 10,825 volunteer hours, you could be forgiven for thinking NWMR was a paid service.
But it is made up entirely of volunteers.
The 60-strong team - which is on-hand 24-7, 365 days a year - boasts a skill set ranging from incident management, abseiling and orienteering to first aid and CPR, and comes from towns and villages across Northern Ireland.
During a practice session dubbed ‘reporter rescue’, the team responded to and ‘saved’ this ‘maimed’ reporter from the side of Slemish Mountain in record time.
Complaining of an imagined broken ankle because of Slemish’s rocky surface, the ultra professional team were quick to splint the problem leg, while monitoring signs of deterioration before stretchering the injured party to safety. During quite a pleasant experience (for an emergency rescue) the Mail can attest to the competence of the six volunteers, who continuously monitored pain levels, blood pressure, breathing rates, temperature and also pupil reactions during the drill.
Weather-wise it couldn’t have happened on a more pleasant and sunny day, despite which the crew carried heavy back-packs containing enough supplies for 48 hours - should they become stranded.
On most call-outs NWMR said they deal with leg injuries, but also climbers and hill walkers suffering from exposure and exhaustion.
Indeed, on St Patrick’s Day ‘reporter rescue’ was cut short as the team rushed off to aid a woman in her 30s who had really hurt her leg.
While throughout the day they helped quite a few others down the slippery, well-travelled slope.
Working on their casualty management, rope and stretcher work, team members go through up to two years rigorous training before becoming fully-fledged rescuers.
Working in sometimes freezing conditions in remote, low visibility and often hostile environments, crew members train two evenings each month as well taking part in operations with other rescue organisations.
NWMR’s three sections in Magherafelt, Ballymena and Enniskillen also come together monthly for a scenario based exercise.
Funded entirely by donations and grants, the team has just been awarded over £20,000 from the Department of Justice, which a spokesperson said “assists in the day-to-day running costs” but “does nothing to address the issues of an aging number of SAR vehicles which require capital support”.