Lowland Volunteers

This week it’s National Volunteers’ Week in the UK, an annual event which takes place on 1-7 June.  It celebrates the contribution made by millions of volunteers across the UK.  We want to share the stories of some of the volunteers we are proud to work with.  Could you be the next Lowland Rescue volunteer?  Visit the Lowland Rescue website to see the many roles and take a look at their Vacancies page for opportunities.

Professionals, in all but pay

Neil Balderson,  Public Communications Officer

I’m Neil Balderson, I’m a volunteer with Lowland Rescue.  When I started, I was looking to give some of my spare time back into volunteering.  My father had been fireman and I always felt I wanted to give something back.  Little did I know where it would end.

I started as a Search Technician in Northamptonshire, and very rapidly found Lowland Rescue a deeply rewarding cause.  I’ve ended up studying to become a Team leader, and Search Manager, to put my skills to better use.  I believe so passionately about Lowland Rescue, I became the PR Officer for Lowland Rescue Committee, representing all 34 teams across the UK.

‘Why I do it’ was at first difficult to answer, but after locating my first missing person it was answered easily.  An elderly gentleman with Dementia, who had wandered off in the night, and we found 26 hours later in the woods some 3 miles away.  Seeing him returned home, and the family overjoyed was what really did it for me.  We normally stay in the background and don’t seek the limelight, but this time the relatives sought us out to say thank you.

Feeling pride in what you do is amazing, we have even had it said to us ‘we thought you were a professional paid service!’  None of us receive any pay and we all volunteer for our own reasons, but we all do it with professionalism, dedication and pride.  Otherwise why would you get out of bed for a 2am search?  I probably spend 10 hours a week working on Lowland Rescue every week, on top of my day job as an engineer.  it doesn’t bother me, because I know what we do is so valuable.

There’s no denying, each call gives you an adrenalin rush, and there’s a fear of failure, but I will always remember the look of the relatives face when we brought them home, that will be all I ever need to keep going.

We are the bass players of life

Keith Smith.  Search Manager, Northants Search and Rescue

I have a weird hobby.  I look for missing, vulnerable people.  Thankfully most of the rest of us searchers are similar in outlook.  We are the bass players of life, rocking along to the beat without looking for the limelight. I love the outdoors, bikes, cricket, fishing, golf, kites, others are into hill walking. I love learning, especially in the application of the knowledge gained; no two searches or situations are the same. My first aid skills have gone from zero to sticking tubes down noses, giving oxygen and Israeli field dressings. My team mates are in many ways deeper friends than my social buddies, I know and they know we are in it together, and that one day we may need to go through some difficult situations both physically and mentally. I have stopped being so evangelical about it, you will know if it is for you. It is for me.

CALLOUTS.  They’re like buses

Chris Hall

The background to this weekend is that our local Foot Search team are running a training course with delegates from around the country doing they’re initial SAR Technician qualification and the National Lowland search dog assessments are going on in a neighbouring county.  So it’s already a busy time for SAR in this part of the country with many hours being given up by many people to do the stuff in the background that keeps the ‘show on the road’.

Not me though, I’m not involved in either event and am contemplating a weekend of DIY, domestic chores and chilling with the long suffering family.  This brings us to Saturday morning, festering in bed with coffee and planning the day’s activities then the phone makes ‘that’ noise, the one it only makes for SAR related calls.  A neighbouring team have been mobilised and we’re now on standby to provide dog support for them.  The plans go in the bin, now it’s a mad dash to get the dogs walked and fed and me showered and fed in case we’re needed.  Fast forward 45mins, I’m in the kitchen willing the toaster on when the phone makes that noise again.  No it’s not the call for other team, we now have an immediate (immediate means we’re straight to callout, no standby required) in our county, so Merlin and I are on our way.  We arrive at the Rendezvous point (RV) and there’s a shortage of ‘supports’ for the dogs.  Support is a team member who supports the dog unit, navigation, coms and medic all rolled into one, but they need special knowledge to work around dogs.  I initially deploy without my dog Merlin to support another handler and facilitate getting paws on the ground quickly.   As we commence our sector we pick up a message, the neighbouring team do need dog support, just as this information is being processed by the callout coordinators another one comes in, yet another local team have been mobilised and need mutual aid – Mutual aid is the term we use when we ask for a neighbouring team to come and help, we work under a ‘mutual aid’ agreement (it’s one of our big strengths in Lowland).  With 330,000 missing a year, we often get more than one at once.

I finally booked out of the RV at 17:30, I supported one sector search and Merlin and I then went on to search two further sectors.  I’d like to say everything had a happy ending but sadly this is real life, two people remain missing and the third search finished with a sad resolution.  So there we are, no DIY and weekend chores but I am at least back chilling with the family, finally.

A Day Off

Chris Hall

Today was that strangest of things, a day’s leave actually taken for the pleasure of itself.  Not a day to catch up on decorating, take a child somewhere, meet a delivery or collect something.  But just for the pleasure of mooching and lunching with my wife and without bored children.  However this creates a conundrum, a day I’m not required at work should be the perfect day ‘on call’, free to drop everything at a moment’s notice and respond to a callout.  However this sort of day off is such a rare event do I want to take the risk of having to spend it in a muddy field with coffee from a Styrofoam cup rather than a latte in Costa!  I can tell you from experience this is a very real risk, in fact the last time I had one of these days off the SMS *callout* arrived at 08:30, just after the dog walk and before breakfast.  It was gone 18:00 by the time I got home, some day off.  So to be on call or not this time?  Well thankfully I can report we weren’t called on today, the latte was just perfect and I even managed to buy some non-dog walking clothes.  As to whether I was on call or not that will have to remain a mystery for now.

Ten years in

Kev Saunders.  Dog Handler, Operations Officer & Chair. Hampshire Search & Rescue Dogs

I’ve been a Search & Rescue volunteer for close to 10 years now. When I first started it was through a want to train alongside working dogs.  I’ve been lucky enough to go on and train my own search dog Zak. Many hours have been spent working hard to provide the best service to the community. We’ve attended many incidents throughout the South Coast. Though an unpaid, volunteer role the skills I have gained over the years are incredible. I now spend much of my time volunteering my time to pass these skills on to the next generation of Lowland Rescue professionals. These members have become friends. Volunteers are the tool that makes Lowland Rescue such an important part of the UK emergency services.

Staffordshire Search and Rescue Team

Eddie Malpass with Staffordshire Search and Rescue Team (SSART)

I’m Eddie.  I work full time in a warehouse and, for the past 9 years, have been a volunteer with Staffordshire Search and Rescue Team (SSART) –  a lowland rescue team.  Why would you do that you may ask.  Like my fellow team members, we share a passion – to help others in their time of need, we like the outdoors, and for me it seemed like a different challenge ad a good idea at the time.

My ‘reward’? Knowing that I have helped make  a positive difference to someone’s life in their time of need ad crisis, or helped bring closure to a family, allowing them to say goodbye to a loved one.

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone – sums it up I think….We are all volunteers, funded by donations, working alongside our emergency services, for you, the public.

Like all Teams, members are on call 24/7 365 days per year.  Thanks for taking the time in reading this- now do something different- join the ranks.

Follow us on Facebook ‘staffordshire search and rescue’ and Twitter @ssart1

I needed a bigger sense of accomplishment

Jim Whiteside

I started volunteering five years ago because I needed a bigger sense of accomplishment and that what I was doing made a difference than I was getting at work (keeping webservers alive)I finally discovered Lowland Rescue three years ago and haven’t looked back since. I’m learning new skills, keeping fit and active, meeting fantastic people and have had some unforgettable experiences. And the best bit is that what we do makes such a huge difference to communities it times of greatest need.