When you open your phone book and look at the emergency call services available in Northern Ireland by dialling 999, you will see Fire, Police, Ambulance, Coastguard, Cave Rescue and Mountain Rescue listed.

They are all regarded across the country as the services you would call on in times of extreme difficulty, trauma and which could be life or death situations.

However it appears they are not all treated equally. We know that Fire, Police and Ambulance are full-time statutory services, the Coastguard has paid personnel and volunteers but Cave Rescue and Mountain Rescue services are totally voluntary with little or no funding.

Now at a time when the local North West Mountain Rescue team was in strong demand for the services of its local volunteers, it has been revealed that members even have to buy their own outdoor gear, pay their own way to call-outs, near or far and constantly seek charitable donations to keep their organisation going.

Is it right to treat one of our vital emergency services, by asking volunteers to stand at street corners in our towns and villages with collection boxes to ensure they can afford the vital equipment necessary to save lives or to assist other agencies in major rescue operations?

The role of mountain rescue teams in Northern Ireland now fall within the Department of Justice, since the responsibility for voluntary search and rescue was transferred from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. But it appears their stream of direct funding for operational costs has largely ceased and is now subject to a competitive bid process. The North West Mountain Rescue Team covering Fermanagh, with local volunteers, have seen 50 per cent of their total funding costs from government, wiped out and now must raise their own funds.

The volunteers are not looking for payment but a respect for the service and funding for their increasing costs for specialised equipment, and to help them train regularly. They join the team to serve their community but this becomes much more difficult as they are are not highly enough regarded within government circles to secure funding.

Their work covers more than helping those stranded on the hills; they have been actively involved in shoreline searches for people reported missing, including the current case of Kieran McAree, as well as supporting searches in coastal areas and for vulnerable people who go missing.

The volunteers who already sacrifice their own family life on many occasions are now being asked to even go further; to pay themselves for undertaking a vital service to the community, usually on behalf of one of the statutory agencies. How long can this last?