“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of here” are exactly the kind of comforting words that you need when you’ve fallen in a dense, wooded area and have broken your leg. And they’re exactly the words I heard from the professional, comforting team at Wiltshire Search and Rescue this weekend.
It had started as a normal Sunday exercise. I’ve been part of the team since October, supporting the organisation with voluntary public relations support (speaking to the media and making sure our Facebook page, Twitter and LinkedIn are updated). As part of my immersion into Wiltshire Search and Rescue, it became apparent very early on that for me to fully understand the workings of a search, and what happens when we find vulnerable and missing people, I needed to learn how to become a Search Technician. So along with about 20 other new trainees I’ve been spending every Wednesday evening and most Sundays learning the amazing array of skills needed to be a professional Search Technician. We’ve learned basic life support, water awareness, how to search a route and path, how to area search, how to use a radio, casualty care, using throw lines, what kit we carry, how to search efficiently, how to respond to a call-out and yesterday, we were putting it all into practice above Devizes at Roundway Hill.
My team of five were searching a wooded area for our ‘missing’ person – a lady called ‘Julie’ who was known to be depressed and who had been missing for nearly 24 hours. It was a common scenario that the team would be called to – in fact in 2016, Wiltshire Search and Rescue volunteers were called out 51 times, giving over 10,000 hours of voluntary time supporting Wiltshire Police and occasionally other county’s police forces too. We were spread out over a steep area, looking in front, to the side and behind us all the way through the wood. The terrain was quite challenging but the Team Leader made sure we were all safe which is always our first concern, as we can’t help our missing person if we’re down a team member because of a sprained ankle….
Then the call came over the radio that I needed to get back to the control vehicle immediately. After a quick consultation with the other team members, it was agreed that I shouldn’t go back on my own so another member came with me, leaving the three to continue the search for ‘Julie’.
What none of the 35 others on the exercise realised was that I was about to become the casualty! Planned in advance to test our team’s advanced medical skills and their understanding of how to ‘package’ and ‘extract’ a casualty, I now had to walk away from the route and ‘break’ my leg.
We called my fall into the control van – an incredibly sophisticated vehicle where our Search Planner and Search Manager sit and liaise with the police about our ongoing search. They reassured us that help was on the way, and sure enough within about 10 minutes it was our medical lead who came striding through the woods with kit, team members and his comforting words.
The situation, and my condition, were assessed using the Primary Survey which works through a series of checks to assess danger, response of the casualty, injuries and next steps. I was quickly comforted by team members as our Medical Lead got to work finding out what had happened. Throughout I felt in completely safe hands, and each step was explained to me as my boots were removed and my entirely fictitious broken leg was put in a splint ready for me to be moved to a stretcher and carried out of the woods to the waiting ambulance.
The Team’s care and concern was evident but what was most apparent was the calm professionalism of all involved. I was moved from the ground into an emergency blanket (like a huge orange duvet) then the basket stretcher was moved underneath me, before the team moved me out of the wood. Even though I weigh 12 stone the small team managed to expertly manoeuvre me over the rough ground, through a barbed wire fence and across a ploughed field before they walked to the road to meet the approaching ambulance.
It was an incredibly interesting experience and one which most of us will hopefully never have to live through. But in order to understand what it must be like to be an injured, scared, missing person it was invaluable. Thank you Wiltshire Search and Rescue for everything you do and I’m extremely proud to be part of the organisation.
If you’re interested in joining Wiltshire Search and Rescue as a volunteer then please take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.
In 2016 Wiltshire Search and Rescue volunteers were called out 43 times by Wiltshire Police to help locate vulnerable and missing people, including saving the lives of two people they found. The volunteers were also asked a further eight times to assist with neighbouring Search and Rescue teams, bringing the total number of call-outs to 51, almost one a week, throughout 2016.
In recognition of the hours of searching that Wiltshire Search and Rescue’s team has given for free to their local community, Inspector Paul Saunders from Wiltshire Police, had this to say in thanks, “The initial stages of a High Risk missing person investigation are crucial in terms of getting the right resources in the right place as soon as possible. The welfare of the missing person is paramount. As well as utilising specialist police resources, such as Air Support, Police Search Advisor (PolSA) and Dog units, it is imperative that we contact and deploy Wiltshire Search and Rescue as soon as we are in a position to do so.
“This opens up more options to the officer in charge of the search on the ground and greatly increases the chances of finding the person in the quickest time possible, which is the ultimate aim of the investigation. Knowing that we can bring Wiltshire Search and Rescue volunteers to standby at the start of an investigation and then move to callout as soon as we have some defined search parameters, means that the PolSA can plan the most effective search strategy under the circumstances.
“When you speak to a Wiltshire Search and Rescue volunteer their pride in what they do and their dedication to their craft is tangible. Their willingness to be on call, at all hours of the day, for no reward other than knowing they have been directly involved in saving lives does them credit. Wiltshire Police is very pleased to be associated with them and look forward to continuing the close working relationship that exists between us.”
- In 2016 the team gave up 10,071 hours of their time to help missing or vulnerable people.
- If this was converted into an average police officer’s wage, it would cost the taxpayer over £180,000.
- For every hour that a volunteer team member spends searching for missing and vulnerable people, they spent another eight hours taking part in vital training or attending update sessions to ensure the smooth running of the organisation.
- Nearly 80 training events took place in 2016 including joint training exercises with the other emergency services.
- The most common areas that we were deployed to in 2016 were Swindon (15) and Salisbury (7).
Adrian Sawyer, Chair of Wiltshire Search and Rescue, added, “The statistics for 2016 show what a vital role we play in supporting the emergency services. Most importantly, vulnerable missing people that we help who need medical attention are given it by our volunteers, specifically trained to do this in an emergency situation. We directly helped to save the lives of two people last year who would have died if they had not been found and given lifesaving treatments by Wiltshire Search and Rescue volunteers.”
Wiltshire Search and Rescue takes new trainee volunteers twice a year and puts them through a rigorous training programme before they go away for a weekend course to finalise their skills and to gain their Search Technician qualification. 20 current trainees are learning basic medical skills, working alongside experienced volunteers and expert paramedics. They’re also learning how to search, how to navigate, use radio communications and have undertaken a proof of fitness walk before they’re made fully operational. They will then be able to join the more experienced team members on live searches, on-call 24/7 to support when needed.
Adrian Sawyer commented on what it’s like to be a trainee, “The commitment is important and it’s not for everyone, but the amazing sense of being able to give something back to the community is what usually drives people through the rain, the cold and the evening exercises! When we’re out searching and we’re thanked by the family and friends of the person we have been called to help, all the hard work is immediately worthwhile. It’s an honour to be able to work alongside Wiltshire Police and to give the support that is needed at a time when it’s so critical.”
Charli Cumberpatch, a recruitment consultant, joined Wiltshire Search and Rescue in November 2016 because she wanted to make a real contribution, adding, “The training has been fantastic and everything we’ve learned so far has exceeded my expectations. Everyone in the team has been friendly and welcoming and there is a true feeling of everyone working towards a common goal, to help the missing person.”
Rob Owen, an enterprise wireless and routing and switching specialist, joined because he wanted to get his teeth into something, commenting, “As a family we loved geocaching, walking around the countryside looking for items so this feels like a more worthwhile version of that! I’m going to take personal satisfaction in giving something back. I’m no hero but being able to be there in someone’s hour of need is something that drives me.”
If you’re interested in joining our team then take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about what it takes.
Job: Warrant Officer (Army)
A year in the life of a WILSAR Trainee
So I have made the plunge, I have finally decided to get off my backside and do something worthwhile for the community! Over the next few months I will be writing updates on my progress as a trainee search technician with Wiltshire Search and Rescue (WILSAR).
You would be right to think that a serving Warrant Officer that has been in the Army for nearly twenty years would have had enough of the outdoors to last him a lifetime? As a soldier I have been extremely fortunate to have had a very long and fulfilling career, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end!!
So It was with the fear of finding myself at the end of a desk 9-5, Monday – Friday which made me look elsewhere for fulfilment and the idea of volunteering was posed by my wife (Thanks Stacey!) as a way of using my spare time constructively and giving something back to the community (although I suspect that she was tactfully trying to get me out of the house).
After looking at some options (St John’s ambulance etc.) I finally decided that I liked the look of the Lowland Search and Rescue and decided to email the Membership Officer and get a feel for what it was all about. After a very swift response I was awaiting the recruitment evening with anticipation.
On arrival (slightly late I might add). The first thing that struck me was how professional everyone was, from the people outside arranging parking to the setup of the hall everything seemed very well organised and almost “military”. It was no surprise then to learn that WILSAR have a large number of serving and ex serving members of the Armed Forces amongst their ranks (Pardon the pun).
The next pleasant surprise was that a number of the skills and qualifications needed to be a search technician are routinely taught in the military and although not necessarily transferable offer a good start point for someone like myself who has spent a whole career using communication systems, medical procedures and search techniques.
The evening was very informative and gave a great insight into what might be expected of a trainee search technician as well as what can be offered in return, of the fifty people that turned up for the evening some 30 people expressed further interest. The operational members of the team were excellent in answering questions and showing us around all of the equipment.
The thought of searching for venerable persons who may be lost, cold and scared certainly struck a chord and as a father I am grateful that such an organisation exists, we are extremely fortunate, where do I sign?
Night Skills Training – 24 Jan 16
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the round robin skills day on the 17th Jan but from what I’ve heard it was a very useful day, especially for those that have not done any type of outside navigation using a map and compass.
The night search skills operational training began with the normal call out procedure, i.e. a text message containing the information required and the RV. We are then required to reply to the text in a standard format that is used for callouts. I have been assigned the Call sign Tango 01 (Trainee 01) for the period of my training.
We met up at the RV which as normal was being controlled by one of the Operational Team Members and after parking the car I proceeded to sign in at the rear of the Control Vehicle before being issued with a high vis vest.
Whilst waiting for the others to arrive I got chatting to some of the other trainee members and what became apparent was the spread of different people who have volunteered to train, this theme also runs throughout the operational members who range from paramedics to retired writers all willing to give up their spare time.
So after a bit of milling around (which I’m told is normal). We were divided up into teams and given the exercise scenario which was going to be used for the evening. We then mounted up in our vehicles and drove to the drop off point just North of Devizes, each team was given a team leader and we set of on a Hasty “Route and Path” searching for the missing person.
Susan took us down the path and described some of the search techniques used when looking for missing persons and the importance of looking for anything out of the ordinary as the method of searching using the “box” method.
What struck me was the reality of the scenario; it could easily have been a real live missing person out there. Just as we came to the end of a track and into a small copse, Penny (one of the trainee members) found one of the simulated missing persons that had been laid out for us to try and find.
It really was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and although the search was hampered later on by some pretty awful weather everyone had found the exercise beneficial not least to identify any shortfalls in clothing and kit – next on the shopping list, Gaiters and spare shoes for after the search!!