Volunteers of the North West Mountain Rescue Team recently scaled Cuilcagh Mountain, braving low temperatures and snowy conditions for their winter training.

“The training focused on ‘Casualty Comfort’ in harsh winter conditions,” explained Diane Sheridan, one of the volunteers. “Our casualty had a suspected lower leg injury, which was splinted with our vacuum splints. We moved him initially in a concertina folded bivi to more secure even ground and then it was a transfer into our casualty bag and stretcher for a carry off.”

Winter conditions in the hills present a number of unique challenges. Snow hides the ground underneath, making it easy to trip on rocks and uneven ground. Deep snow can hide streams and even rivers with a soft drift that’s easy to fall through. Ice is slippery underfoot and has the potential to trigger long falls when you’re on a steep slope. Ice can also be very sharp. A fall on ice can cause serious incisions and lacerations.

Wind chill can reduce temperatures to unbearable levels. Frostnip and frostbite become real risks in low temperatures but particularly during high winds. Low temperature air is very dry so dehydration can quickly occur through breathing and sweating.

The North West Mountain Rescue Team (NWMRT) was established in Londonderry in 1980 to provide a search and rescue service for the North West of Ireland.

In 1998, and with the official opening of Cuilcagh Mountain Park, NWMRT saw the need for a rescue team to be set up in the West of the province, with a base in Fermanagh. Local people showed great interest and a permanent section was set up to provide a service in this area.

The mountain rescue base, situated in the heart of the hills in Florencecourt, was officially opened in August 2013. This base is used for training and an equipment store and is maintained by team members. The team currently have four response vehicles, one based in each section with the fourth being the communications and control vehicle which is equipped with radio communications equipment and MR mapping software with printers, gps systems etcetera.

The local section, known as West section, currently comprises 19 operational members, 13 full and six probationary. At present they are introducing a new group of inductees into the initial stages of their training programme and through time will hopefully progress to full membership.

All new members are taken through rigorous training which may take up to two years, before they are considered for full membership. To remain competent, each section trains two evenings per month in various activities which include first aid, search, recovery, technical rope work, incident control, navigation and radio communications. All three sections come together and train monthly and this can include multi agency training.

The team responds to anything between 40 to 50 call outs per year. These calls can vary from long protracted searches for missing or vulnerable adults or children, technical rescues or to provide medical assistance to anyone in need, either in urban areas or in mountainous, remote or wilderness environments. Members need to have the ability to conduct these tasks in the dark, cold, wet or wintry conditions, whilst ensuring the safety of themselves, their teammates and the general public. As a registered charity the team relies upon the generosity and support of the public and appreciates any donations given as annual team running costs average in the region of £40,000. All funds go towards the running of the team and to the purchasing of life saving equipment, which is all required for a mountain rescue team.