30 years of volunteers offering vital emergency support is marked

This story was published 14 December 2021

North Yorkshire and York’s Major Incident Response Team (MIRT) had to respond to its own minor emergency when new Covid-19 measures put its plans for a 30th anniversary celebration on hold.

MIRT Birthday cake

For the past 30 years, the team of dedicated volunteers – some working, some retired and from a wide variety of backgrounds – has worked alongside emergency services and local authorities during incidents large and small, offering practical support, such as setting up rest centres, and looking after the emotional welfare of the people affected.

An anniversary event for the volunteers was due to be held on Friday, 10 December, but in response to Covid safety measures it was postponed.

Instead, after a ceremonial cutting, the celebration cake was donated to a care home in Northallerton.

MIRT was born out of the 1980s, the “decade of disasters” that saw incidents including the Lockerbie air crash, Zebrugge ferry sinking, Kegworth air crash, King’s Cross fire, Marchioness sinking and Bradford City fire. In the wake of these disasters, a government report identified a need for public sector services to support people caught up in or affected by such traumatic events. North Yorkshire led the way and formed MIRT in 1991.

The team currently has 20 members. Incidents the team has been involved in over the years include the Dunkeswick air crash in 1995, the Selby rail crash in 2001, the 2015 Boxing Day floods, a house explosion in Haxby in 2016, the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 and numerous other flooding and weather-related events, including the 2019 Swaledale floods and recently Storm Arwen. MIRT’s day-to-day work often involves smaller incidents, including road accidents and suicides.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les, who is Executive Member for Emergency Planning, said: “MIRT is among the finest examples in North Yorkshire of volunteers coming forward to support individuals and communities. It is a priority for us to support the vulnerable in our communities, and this includes those that are made vulnerable by a personal trauma or wider emergency. MIRT has been providing this essential support for 30 years and the volunteers, some of whom have been involved throughout those years, thoroughly deserve to be celebrated.”

Cllr Andy D’Agorne, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Emergency Planning at City of York Council, said: “MIRT volunteers are specialised and highly trained to do this difficult job and I’m in awe of how they support residents’ recovery from very difficult situations. The team’s empathy and strength is immense and we’re so grateful to them during or after significant incidents, most recently in the pandemic and also as the city has recovered from floods. Thank you to all who volunteer and work with MIRT.”

Superintendent Mike Walker of North Yorkshire Police added: “Current events are a timely reminder of why it’s important to work together, so we can plan and deliver support to people throughout York and North Yorkshire.

“Over the decades, the Major Incident Response Team has responded to many different types of incidents. But one thing that’s remained consistent is the hard work and dedication of those involved, which is a fantastic asset to everyone in the county, especially in their hours of need.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, MIRT volunteers have offered emotional support to people impacted by the loss of loved ones to Covid and have undertaken emotional debriefing sessions with professional groups working throughout the pandemic. They have also worked with care homes and elderly persons’ homes.

Team manager Alex Sutcliffe says: “I talk about the three Fs: facts, feelings and future. We get the facts; we let people talk about their feelings; then we work with them on what their future is going to look like. With smaller incidents, people often need to tell their story aloud, then they can move forward.

“Although our title includes ‘major incident’ we know that if something has happened to a community or family that has taken them out of their everyday life, this is major to them. It is about emotional resilience. We can work with people for as long as necessary. We are not all trained counsellors, but we can refer people on to medical professionals, if necessary.”

Alex is keen to hear from people who would be interested in joining the MIRT volunteers.

“I would like to hear from people who think they have something to offer and would like to do work that can make a difference to individuals or communities,” she said. “It is not for the faint-hearted.  You need to be a good communicator and want to help people.”

For more information, email MIRT@northyorks.gov.uk