Thinking about volunteering for mountain rescue? Fiona Thompson takes time out of her busy schedule to tell Jobs of the Wild about the voluntary work she does with the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team.

Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team (NNPMRT)

NNPMRT are members of NESRA, the North East Search and Rescue Association, a regional panel of Mountain Rescue (England and Wales), the national governing body for all mountain rescue teams, providing vital search and rescue service nationwide.

Fiona says:

Our team covers the whole of the Northumbria police area which is huge – over 2159 square miles. This is the largest area covered by any Mountain Rescue Team in England. We provide search and rescue from Sunderland in the south east of our area, to Alston in the south west and all the way to the Scottish border ridge. Fortunately as a team we have members based all over this area so are able to cover it well. We also work extensively with other teams supporting one another when needed.

To find your local mountain rescue team please see the links below.

Job description

Team member and Medic – As a team member of a mountain rescue team, I am on call all day, every day to help as needed. This can entail retrieving fallen climbers from any of Northumberland’s crags or searching for lost or vulnerable people in urban, rural or mountainous regions. We are often called to help the police or ambulance service as we are trained in search techniques and can retrieve casualties from places that an ambulance crew would have difficulty accessing.Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue team at work with stretcher

Fiona and team on a medical call-out

Income

Voluntary so none whatsoever.

Qualifications

Each Mountain Rescue Team will have its own recruitment policy and procedure so check with them first! We need people who are: –

  • Physically fit
  • Confident in their own ability on the hill
  • Confident navigating safely through mountainous environments in poor conditions
  • Between 18 and 70 years old
  • Based long term in the area

I have various mountaineering qualifications and although these show what I have done in the past, they are not required to join the team.

Character traits

  • • Work as a team
  • • Follow instructions
  • • Ability to wake up and be alert in the middle of the night
  • • Concentrate in a search scenario for hours
  • • Be flexible regarding any plans you may have in your home life

Training

Approximately 6 months as a trainee – this involves attending a high number of the training sessions which for us are twice a month and one weekend day a month. After about six months you should be able to start attending call outs as a probationary member. After a period of training consolidation and experience on call outs you are eventually made a full team member when your skill base is sufficient. Within NNPMRT, members are expected to attend at least 50% of all training in order to consolidate and develop their skills and remain on the call-out list.

Once you are a full team member, there are various areas where you can specialise. I am a team medic, but we also have members who have trained in radios, technical rope rescue techniques, water rescue and joined SARDA (Search and Rescue Dog Association) and trained a search dog.

Top Tips for interview

Volunteer!

Top tip for doing the job

Be really flexible! I have left my grocery shopping in the store before now and postponed days and trips out.

You must have a really supportive family and understanding children. Mine have grown up with Mum disappearing at different times so are used to it. My husband is wonderful and puts up with a lot, just don’t talk about our first date! But, on one occasion I woke him up in the middle of night getting back into bed. “Loo stop?” He mumbled. “No,” I said, “Just returning from a four hour search.” He hadn’t even noticed.

Be a good friend so you have lots of ‘Brownie points’ for when you need to call in favours for child care and ‘extended’ or spontaneous play dates.

All team members are very grateful for the support and flexibility of their employers, friends and obviously to our very understanding families.

Pros

•Helicopter training! We get to fly with and train with helicopters. It used to be the Sea Kings, but now we train with the new Bristows coastguard helicopters.

• I have explored places that I normally would never have gone to, and got to work with and meet some amazing people.

Cons

•Disruption. The service is always available so you never know when you will be called out or for how long. If you can’t go, you don’t have to and there is a large pool of people to call on so jobs are always covered by someone else but obviously you go whenever you can.

•Managing personal time and work priorities. For example, employers of team members must be aware of your commitments and the potential for call-outs during working hours and if you are self-employed you need to manage cover for your business at short notice.

• Extra costs, wear and tear on your own hill kit and the car.

Working hours

Varied – evening training twice a month and one weekend day a month, plus fundraising events, plus further training for specialisms such as medical for me. Others on the team put in a lot of time looking after all our kit and vehicles, ensuring we are always ready when needed.

Travel

As I said, we have a large operational area and callouts or training could be anywhere within “our patch”. We also sometimes support neighbouring teams and train in Scotland one weekend a year on winter skills. So you need to have a reliable car large enough to carry your kit in (and not too ‘precious’: it will get filthy.)

Anything else to consider?

It is incredibly rewarding to know you have helped save a life. However, you also need to be prepared for other outcomes and will occasionally deal with very sad and tragic situations. You need to work out whether you are prepared to deal with that and if so, how. We do have trained support people on the team – so you wouldn’t be dealing with that on your own.

Why I love the job

“Being able to put time and effort back into an activity I love, and being able to help folks who need help is very satisfying. Going home knowing that somebody is safe because you have been prepared to go and help them is a great feeling. The helicopters are pretty cool too!”

Fiona kitted up for a call-out

Useful links

• Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team

• Mountain Rescue England and Wales

• Volunteer for your local England & Wales mountain rescue team here

• Volunteer for your local Scottish Mountain Rescue here

To browse ALL our outdoor jobs in one place click on Jobs of the Wild.