Wednesday 22 October 2014

Putting their lives on the line to rescue

more activity on the mountains

Kevin Hughes

Published 15/05/2013 | 05:36

John O'Sullivan, Kerry Mountain Rescue Team, abseils with a troll stretcher on a Cable Way, which is ideal for rough terrain and river crossings particular to The McGillycuddy Reeks, as part of the rescue training on Porch Gully in the Gap of Dunloe, Killarney.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan.

IT was a Sunday afternoon and conditions were clear and dry.

A day of recreation for many, April 21 was far from that for the members of Kerry Mountain Rescue Team (KMRT) who received an emergency call following an incident in the Reeks, between Cnoc na Peiste and The Big Gun.

There were tragic results, a Japanese visitor had fallen hundreds of feet and he was declared dead at the scene by a doctor.

Thankfully, such fatalities are a small percentage of the total call-outs for the rescue team. This year to date the team has recorded 11 incidents and last year the total figure reached 35.

KMRT PRO Damien Courtney believes that the increase in call outs in recent years is largely doen to the economy.

"There's certainly more activity on the mountains over the last four or five years, it's a cheap method of recreation - apart from equipment there's very little other expense," Damien states.

"I also feel there's a general move towards fitness nationally, for instance, the roads are filled with cyclists and walkers and it's busier on the mountains too."

While there may e a lot more people involved in hill walking, the PRO says the proportion of incidents per capita is actually decreasing.

"There can be quiet periods and then you may get a group of incidents within a few days but when you take it all into perspective, figures are actually down. I feel it's because the message of safety is getting out there and that's thanks to programmes such as 'Search and Rescue', while there are also a lot of organised events which are safety compliant."

KMRT is now in its 47th year in its current voluntary format and there's a permanent database of 35 members, a figure that remains steady.

"That's the number of members we need on a year round basis," Damien explains.

"We usually call out around 25 or 30 members for a major incident and have the others for back up. It works for us as costs would prevent us from training more people and we always have volunteers ready to join up when members retire," he adds.

With most call-outs happening on weekends, it's a major commitment for the volunteers, though, and many have to put family life on hold particularly during the busy summer season. It's a heavy training schedule, between 12 and 14 sessions per annum, and they take place in all weathers so that members can carry out tasks without thinking when it comes to the real thing. There's also a full debrief after each incident to help improve methods.

It's a tough ask physically and members must be proficient in navigation, ropework, first aid, radio communications and four wheel driving.

Annual operational costs, meanwhile, are in the region of €70,000 and with State grants making up around 20-25 percent of that figure, there's a sizeable difference to be made up. Thankfully, fundraisers are held year round and this year Kerry Mountain Rescue is a nominated charity for the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.

"It's fantastic to be nominated as we really couldn't do the work we do and buy the vital equipment needed without the support we receive from within the locally community and long may that last," Damien adds.


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