Farm Ireland

Friday 25 May 2018

Meet the farmers who spend their spare time as volunteers with the rescue services


Jim Nolan, a member of the Glen of Imaal and Dublin Mountain Rescue Teams, photographed on his sheep farm in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow
Jim Nolan, a member of the Glen of Imaal and Dublin Mountain Rescue Teams, photographed on his sheep farm in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

His sheep farm in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow has been in the family for generations but Jim Nolan's knowledge of the mountains has also been inherited.

Jim's father, Jim Nolan Snr (91), attended the scene of a few plane crashes on the mountains in his time, using his local knowledge to help out in search and recovery missions.

Jim has around 300 ewes and also keeps 39 suckler cows on rented land. He first got involved in mountain rescue from meeting the team out on training exercises.

"I began to get involved in 1989 just by meeting a couple of them out training. It went from that to another friend of mine, Robert Power, who was in it more or less from the beginning in 1983," he said.

Though his father was never a member of the mountain rescue, he often helped out in search and rescue operations because of his local knowledge, and this also influenced his decision to join.

"Maybe it's in the blood, but when I was approached by Bill Byrne from Dunlavin, who was the team leader at the time, I said maybe I would," he recalled.

"That was some time ago, in 1991, and I suppose I've been involved ever since."

The Glen of Imaal and Dublin Mountain Rescue Teams are amongst the busiest in the country and dealt with over 107 calls on their busiest year but usually deal with about 60 per year.

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The 40 members also attend three training sessions and one meeting per month.

"We get a mixture of everything. A lot of lower leg injuries, cardiac arrests and we also get searches sometimes for despondents, people who have decided to end their lives," he said.

Paul Sullivan is a member of Derrynane Inshore Rescue Team
Paul Sullivan is a member of Derrynane Inshore Rescue Team

"That seems to be getting a little bit more frequent but our team is pretty good at search management so we're called on to do searches.

"It can be very difficult to deal with and you have to be very careful and mind yourself.

"We have a 'buddy system' and if you find something you think you're not able to handle, you can step back.

"We try to limit the number of people who will go into an incident like that and we have access to counsellors and we also have a debriefing after all incidents," he says.

Luckily, not all incidents are tragic and it's the rescue operations that give the most satisfaction and the relief of a casualty in being found.

"This could just be someone who got lost in the fog or got hurt and what we want to do is get them back to their families and friends. If it is a fatality, then it's closure.

"Sometimes you get a bit of a downer if things don't go right and you wish you could have done more, but 99pc of the time you feel good about what you do," he added.

At home with dad Jim Snr is Jim's wife Theresa, and their four children.

"What really brought it home to us was the Rescue 116 tragedy. These were our colleagues and we would have worked with them. That helicopter was only with us the week before. That hurt everyone," he said.

Jim qualified as an emergency medication technician (EMP) in 2010 and hopes to stay involved in the team for another few years.

‘You need four sets of eyes watching and four brains working’

Pig and beef farmer, Paul Sullivan from Caherdaniel in Co Kerry, first got involved in the Derrynane Inshore Rescue Team when friends asked him to come along.

He enjoyed the experience so much he remained and today is one of a 12-member crew that became a declared resource in 2011 and deals with about 10 call-outs each year. They train once or twice per week.

“You’re with lads training and we were sent away on courses and it was all a good experience,” he said.

“We just brought ourselves along and we improved every year. When it started off it was hit and miss, but they raised money and got a boat.

“But it progressed and we are where we are now with a lovely boathouse and a new rescue boat.”

The Derrynane Inshore Rescue Team depends on voluntary donations for its survival. This year, the service was one of the chosen charities of the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle that took place on July 1, a fitting tribute to the volunteers who risk their lives to help others.

“When the beepers go off, there is that worry of what’s ahead and, of course, it is a worry for my wife Bernie and son Jordan at home,” Paul adds.

“You get very close to your colleagues. If there are four of us on the boat, you’re depending on the other three.

“No one can do it on their own and you have to have four sets of eyes watching and four brains working because you just don’t know what’s ahead of you.”

Once the team even came to the rescue of one of Paul’s bullocks that had got stranded on a cliff.

“Castro the famous bullock got stuck on a ledge and came tumbling down the hill. I was certain he was dead but when I went to him he was looking up at me but couldn’t stand up,” he said.

Eventually, Paul’s colleagues stretchered Castro down the mountain with eight men carrying him, taking it in turns.

Paul is confident about the future of the Inshore Rescue Team.

“It’s a very close community down here, especially if something goes wrong,” he says.

“We’ve the young people now coming on board, which is great because we’re pushing on now and getting too old for jumping in and out of boats, but we’ll do it for as long as we can.”

Paul Sullivan is a member of the Derrynane Inshore Rescue Team

‘It’s good to be able to help and say you have tried’

Milking 60 cows and with autumn calving, dairy farmer David Sheehy is fairly tied to his farm in Highfield, west Cork.

Still, the married father of two manages to find time to be a member of West Cork Civil Defence and Baltimore Community First Responders.

This is all in addition to organising a tractor run for Motor Neuron Disease and Rath National School each year, where he also serves as chairman of the board of management.

“My daughter Andrea says, ‘Dad, you’re going to have to learn to say no,’” jokes David, who has been a member of the Civil Defence for 12 years.

“Though officially retired, my father gives me a hand and my wife Mary milks the cows. My son Darragh is also just finished his first year at Clonakilty Agricultural College,” he said.

David first got roped in to Civil Defence by his brother-in-law, but says he was putting it off for a long time before that.

The demands on his time vary. Sometimes he’s on alert during bad weather, if  there’s danger of flooding. Other times, it’s dealing with the fallout when there has been a weather-related incident, helping move people or furniture from houses that either have been or are in danger of being flooded.

His main involvement in Civil Defence is on the First Aid side as an EMT for which he put in six months training that included placements in a hospital emergency department and with the Ambulance Service.

His emergency medical training is of invaluable use to Baltimore Community First Response, where he trains and certifies the local groups and GAA clubs.

“It can be very time-consuming but it’s also nice to be able to do something to help people.

“There’s nothing worse than something happening to somebody and you’re standing back not able to do anything about it, whether it’s someone choking or someone after collapsing.

“Now, at least, I’m able to help, although you might not always get a positive outcome but at least you can say you tried,” he said.

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