Emergency response volunteers to be given even greater focus

The key role of hundreds of volunteers who are available to deal with emergencies is being honed to ensure that the response across North Yorkshire can be even more effective.

Teams of specially-trained volunteers are on hand to help with the emergency response to a wide variety of incidents, including road and rail crashes, extreme weather incidents or major health crises such as the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

The increasing occurrence of severe weather has placed a growing demand on resources and the work of the Ready For Anything volunteers as well as the specialist major incident response team (MIRT).

Plans are now being drawn up to ensure that the response to incidents across England’s largest county are even more co-ordinated, and talks are to be held between North Yorkshire Council and other agencies involved in emergency planning.

An event will be staged at the Emergency Planning College in Easingwold in March involving the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum, which is overseen by the council, and organisations ranging from the Red Cross and St John Ambulance to the emergency services, as well as local volunteer groups involved in responding to incidents.

Council leader, Cllr Carl Les, whose responsibilities include emergency planning, said: “We are very aware of how important the roles of volunteers are in our responses to emergencies.

“They are often the unsung heroes of these incidents, helping out in the heart of communities that are affected and providing invaluable support to the emergency services.

“Their work is even more important now, especially as we are seeing a growing number of severe weather events that can affect households and businesses in any part of the county at any time of the year.

“The work to provide an even greater focus on how we respond to emergencies will ensure that the impact of major incidents is lessened as much as possible for communities throughout North Yorkshire.”

The major incident response team initiative, which was launched more than 30 years ago, is the only dedicated team of its kind in the country and incorporates 25 highly-trained volunteers who can be called on to help with major emergencies both in the county and nationally.

Members of major incident response team were involved in the response to the Great Heck rail disaster near Selby in 2001, as well as a series of major flooding events including when Storm Debi arrived in November and the Marine Residence Hotel fire in Scarborough in July last year.

The team of Ready For Anything volunteers was created in the wake of the widespread flooding during the festive period in 2015 after Storm Eva swept across the country bringing widespread disruption.

Roger Hartley a member of Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team

The joint initiative between ourselves and City of York Council now has 350 volunteers who are given specialist training to help to deal with emergencies.

The UK is on the verge of experiencing a record storm season following a succession of extreme weather events in recent months. The nation is close to beating its record for the highest number of named storms, which currently stands at 10, within the annual naming period, which starts in September each year.

Residents and businesses in North Yorkshire were placed on high alert last month (January) when Storm Isha swept across the country bringing widespread disruption, followed by Storm Jocelyn less than 48 hours later.

Head of resilience and emergencies, Matt Robinson, said: “We already have a countywide team of experienced and skilled volunteers who are available to help with responses to emergencies.

“However, we are seeing more events especially with severe weather that require us to become involved, and we are therefore looking to build on the network that is already available and work even closer with local, regional and national volunteer groups and organisations.

“While we can provide expert knowledge and support, communities which have been affected are so important in the response - they are the ones who know the local area and those people who may need the greatest help.”

See details of both the major incident response team and Ready for Anything teams.

We are celebrating the difference that volunteers make by sharing stories from across the county as part of the Team North Yorkshire campaign.

Janet Preston

Major incident response team (MIRT) volunteers are a team of trained volunteers who offer their time to help with emotional and practical support to people affected by a range of extraordinary situations.

The situations could be road traffic accidents, bereavements by suicide, community evacuations, witnessing or being caught up in larger emergencies.

The Major incident response team volunteer team attended a training day with the suicide support group Suicide Bereavement UK, which helps gives volunteers the ideas to help people impacted by suicide.

Janet Preston, 63, has been supporting individuals bereaved through suicide and visits families to listen to people and signposts to resources of support.

Janet said: “I had no idea just how many people took their own lives – it really shocked me actually. People want to tell their stories and we are happy to sit and listen if that’s what they need. The volunteers help people to feel connected with support groups in the area and reassure people that they aren’t alone. There are so many unanswered questions following a suicide and it’s my role to let people know that suicide isn’t caused by a single reason alone and that it’s ok to feel so many different emotions and to feel confused as to why it’s happened.

“Visits will be rarely longer than 90 minutes. I think people enjoy talking to a stranger and the fact we don’t take any notes – I think that reassures people. Two volunteers will visit together – which is good because we can support all the family members. People are so grateful to have spoken to us. These are conversations that people aren’t able to have with their family, I think they see it as a burden on other family members so talking to a stranger is really beneficial. The good thing about visiting a family in pairs is that if a family member gets distressed, you can take that person out of the room and support them while still continuing to deliver care for the other person.”

Janet spent her career working as a midwife before retiring and felt compelled to use her skills to help people navigate the devastation of suicide.

“When I was a midwife, I had an interest in bereavement support and I’ve been able to use my skills positively in my volunteer role. It’s lovely to receive messages from families thanking us for our work. I have also completed mental health training courses to develop my skills further – I love the role and I think the MIRT volunteering scheme is such a smart idea.”

Find out more about becoming a major incident response team volunteer.

Caren Horsfield

Although major incidents are thankfully few and far between, it is important to recognise the dedicated volunteers who help their communities to respond when they do happen.

Since 1998, Caren Horsfield has volunteered with our Major Incident Response Team (MIRT) – the only one of its kind among local authorities across the country.

Caren, who lives in Eggborough and works as a counsellor, said: “The role involves providing emotional and practical support to people, from those suffering from a bereavement or a major incident such as flooding.

“It can include attending the scene, talking to witnesses and going to court cases or inquests.

“I have met many amazing, caring people who volunteer for the Major Incident Response Team over the years, making friends through lived situations. I’m one of the longest servers.”

Not long after joining the Major Incident Response Team, Caren spent two years helping the communities affected by the Selby train crash in 2001, the UK’s worst rail disaster of the 21st century. She spent two years supporting bereaved families, survivors and nearby residents.

She has also been involved in the efforts against flooding in Tadcaster, having set up a rest centre at Tadcaster Grammar School, and was on standby during heavy rainfall over the last few months.

Caren was inspired by her parents who defended their country, with her father fighting during World War Two in Burma and her mother serving in the Women’s Land Army.

Having previously volunteered with St John’s Ambulance and Cruse Bereavement, Caren has cemented herself as an experienced volunteer who is at the forefront of providing support during emergencies.

Shirley and Malcolm Maude

Ready For Anything is an emergency volunteer scheme run by the emergency agencies of the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum. It was set up after the devastation caused by the 2015 Boxing Day floods and covers the whole of North Yorkshire and York.

Malcolm, aged 69, and 66-year-old Shirley Maude have lived in Northallerton for 40 years and have proudly served their communities in that time. Shirley is a retired pharmacist and Malcolm is a retired Police Officer and when they approached retirement, they both felt that they wanted to offer more to the community they live in.

The couple have attended a number of valuable training sessions have supported vulnerable people in the community.

Malcolm said: “It’s only when you meet isolated vulnerable people that you know how they really feel. Shirley and I were tasked to carry out welfare checks on vulnerable people during the pandemic and we shared support information, dropped of prescriptions and let them know they aren’t alone. The training has certainly given us the confidence to carry out support tasks in the community.”

Shirley and Malcolm

There are currently hundreds of volunteers across York and North Yorkshire who provide practical support to people. There is no obligation to offer a regular commitment, but people will be notified when there is an incident and if they are able to help. With regular team meet ups, there is a strong community of volunteers.

Shirley said: “We were affected by flooding in 2000, so it feels like we are giving something back to people who helped us. I feel proud that we are part of the volunteer team – it also makes us realise how much work goes on behind the scenes at North Yorkshire Council.”

Find out more about Ready For Anything.

Tony Dyer

Tony Dyer has spent his working life helping others, be it as a firefighter, ambulance service community first responder or coastguard rescue officer.

So when the opportunity to become a Ready for Anything volunteer came in 2016, Tony, aged 65 and from Scarborough, thought he could help.

What he could not have known was just how much in demand he and his colleagues would be.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought the role of volunteers into sharp focus and Tony, who is facing serious health challenges of his own, was among those called on to help deliver food and medicines to those isolated or in need.

“It is nice to help people when they need it the most,” he said. “I went through a period of time when I needed help because five years ago I was diagnosed with cancer.

“When people are probably at the worst time in their life it is nice to be able support and do what we can for them.”

Tony plays down the impact of the work he did during the height of the outbreak.

“I played a little part in the big scheme of things, but for the people who were receiving the help it was significant,” he said. “My mobility isn’t what it used to be, but I was able to get in the car, go to the chemist and then deliver what was needed.

“I was concerned about catching Covid. But I was taking lots of precautions, such as wearing masks, aprons, gloves and getting washed as soon as I got back in. My wife is a nurse so she made sure I followed all the recommendations.

“The way I look at it, you can curl up in a ball and not do anything or you can do what you can to help.”

Tony says people should not be put off volunteering by thinking they do not have the required experience.

“Quite often there are no specialist skills required. It can be just popping leaflets through a letter box, like some of us did during Covid, or making cups of tea at an emergency rest centre,” he said.

“Ready for Anything volunteers are not called out that often, but it’s nice when you are able to do something for somebody because if the tables were turned would you like help from someone else? Quite often the answer is yes.”

Roger Hartley

Come rain, hail or shine, dedicated members of Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team are always on standby for search and rescue operations on the North York Moors, Dalby Forest, Yorkshire Wolds or anywhere else in the area where needed.

The team is made up of about 50 unpaid volunteers and among them is incident controller Roger Hartley. A former RAF ground equipment mechanic and mountain rescuer, Roger has been involved with the SRMRT for more than 20 years.

On call 365 days a year, Roger responds to calls from the police or ambulance services. Last year saw the teams being called out to 65 emergency incidents.

He said: “Our teams conduct search and rescue operations in mountainous environments that cannot be reached by the police or ambulance crews. We all bring lots of experience and expertise to the role especially as geographically we are covering a huge, rural area.”

Since 1996, the team base has been located just off the A170, Scarborough to Pickering Road, in the village of Snainton. With four vehicles, including two Land Rovers, they are ready at all times to respond to emergency incidents,

Roger, aged 66, who lives in Whitby, said: “August seems to be our busiest month with the nice weather, and busy holiday period. The most common incidents tend to be from falls due to the wet grounds. Most people are now very well equipped when venturing out, so we don’t tend to get as many missing persons call outs as we used to.

“Volunteering with SRMRT is extremely satisfying. Everybody does their bit and works together. “What we can achieve is amazing and it’s a great feeling to make a difference. I would say there is also a sense of relief at a job completed and well done.”

Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team is not funded and relies on donations. Anyone wishing to contribute to the work they do is asked to visit the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue team website.