Team Leaders' Report 2013

Operations Manager’s Report 2013

2014 sees the team reach its 50th Birthday. This significant achievement is made all the more special by the fact that we are all volunteers. Over the past 50 years there has been a steady stream of individuals that have willingly given their time to be involved in Mountain Rescue.  We must also recognise the support that those individuals receive from their loved ones, our Association and all those who have helped raise funds keeping us operational. 

“Things have changed”

Mike Riddell stepped down as team leader in early 2013 and the team were faced with the reality that there was no one person who was eligible or who wanted to take on the team leader’s in its current form. The team discussed possibilities and explored alternative management structures. After “some” debate the new structure was proposed, voted for and accepted by the team. The new structure comprises of 3 Hill Leads, an Operations Manager and a Training officer. The previous model had consisted of a Team leader, 2 Deputies and the Training officer. We discovered that some team members were willing and able to do parts of the team leader role but not all of it. It is certainly credit to past team leaders and their ability to cope with the demands that go with being involved in team management. The new structure saw the team entering new territory.  A large proportion  of team  had only ever known the old structure. For the newer team members it was perhaps less of a culture shock. The important thing to bear in mind was that we were all keen to ensure that the team remained operationally ready, regardless of how we manage ourselves.  Ultimately those who find themselves requiring assistance on the hill are not really too concerned how the Team is structured, their concern is that we are on the way.

“Blood Brothers”

For a variety of reasons we were also experiencing a change in team demographics. When I first became involved with the team, the old and bold were in the majority and there was a lack of new recruits. From a selfish point of view this was great as it allowed me to tap into their experience. However we have seen that majority become a minority, as we now have a good measure of new blood in the team. This has had several impacts on the team, not to mention seeing some new energy and enthusiasm being injected into some of our more mature members.

One of the causes  of the change has been a very successful recruitment drive and much of that has driven by word of mouth. We currently have a team of 27 operationally fit and available volunteers with several others either in a position to support the team or being assessed for suitability to join the call out list. We also have a waiting list of potential candidates with some very impressive outdoor CVs. Not all recruits will go on to join the team, but we have streamlined our selection process which is of benefit to both us and the individuals concerned. 

In our recruits we are on the lookout for those who are physically and mentally able to cope with the potential demands of a rescue situation, but we are also looking for the right personalities. Team members come with a variety of strengths and weaknesses which we get to know during our training sessions. This allows us to focus on areas for improvement and understand capabilities.


“It’s all good”

Post team management elections, we got down to business.  Training is and always will play an extremely important part in maintaining our readiness to deploy. We had the bones of a good training programme laid out for us which  we tweaked here and there as we saw fit. In some areas we went back to basics and this was partly due to our recent batch of recruits. We recognised the need for everyone to be on the same song sheet and we were acutely aware that team protocols could be in the heads of a select few. Some of our newer members come with experience out with a mountain rescue context and we as a team must ensure we are up to date.  To that end we have team members who attend various MRCofS training courses throughout the year. We also ensure that we are aligned with our neighbours Braemar MRT as much as possible.  The importance of following team protocol cannot be stressed enough; when we are tired and out in the dark we need to be able to repeat those protocols like second nature.

Congratulations must go to Flynn (and Brian of course) who qualified in 2013 to be our 2nd SAR dog. Well done to the both of you.  Flynn has certainly adopted all of us and it’s not unusual to have a large wet nose shoved in your direction for a play or some attention. Coby, our former SAR dog is putting up with this new kid on the block, most of the time.

 In terms of callouts 2013 had started busily enough and was followed by a relatively quiet year.  2014 however has got off to a very busy start.

The guys and girl all keep themselves busy out with team time and we have seen them enter many outdoor events around the North East and Scotland often with great results.  Even as I write this, we have two teams entered into the Strathpuffer. (We won the MRT race)

Team members continue to give safety talks at Schools, youth groups and businesses around the north east. This does help generate some much needed donations but more importantly we hope that by spreading the word that it will help keep folks safe on the hill.

 ‘All day and all of the night’

On to the 27th of October, Monday night post training weekend and I was out walking the dog with our newborn son, legs feeling a bit tired when I received a notification text from one of the hill leaders about two missing walkers. 

What follows after such a text is a routine that will be well rehearsed to Mountain rescuers across the land. Get home (safely), grab kit, put baby down, sort flask, “where’s my dry kit”, realise there’s no bread for sandwiches, “where’s the dog?” shout to wife “did you eat my hill chocolate?” get changed and back out the door. This all has to be done as quickly as possible whilst not waking up my other son. For us it’s then RV at the team base and (in this instance) relocate to the Braemar rescue centre for further tasking.  Often during such callouts we may not get very far as those nice RAF chaps in their helicopter will locate the missing walkers or they will just turn up themselves. I kept thinking this was one of those nights, pretty much until I was sat in that helicopter with those nice RAF chaps heading towards to the Cairn Toul plateau. The weather was pretty miserable and the pilot wasn’t sure how far he could get us and our stretcher in, thankfully with engines straining he got us to where we wanted before heading in for the night.  What followed was an overnight search in very testing conditions. The missing persons, two German walkers were located at first light. We had a rough idea where they were during the night, but dangerous conditions prevented the teams reaching them. The now located pair were evacuated by helicopter which thankfully extracted us as well. The call out was a great result on two fronts; one was that the missing persons had been located safe and well. Secondly it was the first real test of the team since the changes had been introduced.  Aberdeen Mountain rescue had responded professionally and in strength to the call out.

“Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”

2014 looks to be a busy year for us with training, callouts, sponsored walk, fund raising events, the “Gathering” and our 50th anniversary. We plan to have various events throughout the year to celebrate our anniversary which we aim to advertise through local and national media. Oh and there is the matter of organising a wee party too.

I would like to thank out Association for their ongoing support, the public for their support and fund raising which all goes towards us remaining kitted out and operationally prepared.  I would also like to make a special thank you to the partners and families for the love and support of their own “mountain rescuer” this I believe is essential to the well being of our team members. I should also take this moment to thank the team itself for turning out week after week for the training, callouts and all the other jobs that need doing to keep us going.  Without your dedication and enthusiasm, it just wouldn’t work.

I am very proud to be writing this as an active member of the team. The team has a fantastic history and there is no doubt about our future as we move forward in what will certainly be interesting times.


Scott Stevens

Operations Manager