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UWFRA annual review 2020

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Despite the lockdowns and Covid restrictions this year it has been the busiest year on record for the Grassington based Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association (UWFRA) with 58 callouts to date, including one on Christmas Day, up from 49 last year.  The Team are one of the few Mountain Rescue teams who cover underground rescues as well as the more traditional surface and water incidents. To maintain our capabilities, raise funds and carry out our rescues takes a lot of commitment from the 60 volunteers who make up the operational team, this year they have contributed 1955 volunteer hours to rescues up from 1473 last year, 2359 volunteer hours training and 2271 hours doing management and fundraising.  These figures only include the formal training and events with many more spent in the background.  With the lock down restrictions in place a lot of the training and all our meetings have taken place on line, mountaineers are not known for their computer skills so this has been a steep learning curve for some of us.  A limited amount of hands on training has also been done in Covid compliant small groups to maintain essential skills..   Despite the restrictions placed on us we have managed to maintain the Team’s operational capabilities but are really looking forward to getting back to more normal training in 2021.

We never know when we are going to get a callout and even looking back from year to year does not help the planning, with the easing of lockdown July was our busiest month with 10 callouts, August was second with 7 and March and September joint third with 6 each.  We are currently on 5 for December so that may creep up a place or 2 before the end of the year.

Ilkley moor has again been our most popular location for a callout with 10 incidents this year.  This was also the scene for our second callout during lockdown.  Jamie Lunn, a 46 year old outdoor enthusiast from Addingham, was out mountain biking for his daily exercise when he had an accident whilst descending.  Unfortunately, he landed badly suffering a spinal injury, that required 7 months in hospital and has left him a tetraplegic with no sensation below his chest.  Jamie has remained positive throughout and is now fundraising to convert his house so that he can get around in his wheelchair, more information can be found on his Just giving page https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jamiel-01.

We have had 10 callouts to assist with searches, the majority of these have involved people with either dementia or mental health issues. Most of the missing people being found either by the rescue teams or Police during the search, though sadly one was located deceased a few weeks later on.  A couple of the searches have been for walkers who became lost within a few meters of the same place and only 2 days apart both whilst attempting a circular walk near Harrogate.  Fortunately we were able to confirm they location using their phones so only had to deploy a limited team to each.

Our team of specialist water rescue technicians have also been busy this year with 9 incidents requiring their skills.  The majority have been in searching rivers and their banks as part of a wider search plan, but we have also attended the flooding in Pateley Bridge back in February and were on standby a couple of weeks later in response to further flood warnings.  We have had 2 incidents very close to home at Linton Falls, near Grassington.  The first was at the end of July for a young man who had got into difficulty whilst swimming in the river below the falls, tragically despite the best efforts of all those involved he did not survive.  The second was a few weeks ago for a kayaker, who was with a group of experienced paddlers, who capsized near the top of the rapids and was then washed down before briefly becoming trapped.  As soon as he surfaced his friends were able to get him to the bank and out of the water but were unable to get him up the riverbank due to his injuries and the bank being too steep.  On our arrival the casualty was out of the water but in a location that was difficult to access, and even more difficult to extract a semi conscious casualty from.  Following an assessment of his injuries he was placed on a scoop stretcher and manoeuvred onto a rescue sled to be transported a short distance downstream where he could be taken up the bank to where the Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA) team were waiting.  Following their assessment, he was airlifted to hospital and was discharge a couple of days later.  There were 18 UWFRA members on scene along with YAS ambulance crews, YAS Hazard Area Response Team, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, North Yorkshire Police and several North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue crews including their swift water teams from Ripon and Richmond.

Financially, it currently costs £50,000 each year to fund the replacement equipment and training required to keep the Team operational and our treasurer works to ensure we always have enough funds to keep us going a further 3 years and replace one of the vehicles before letting us spend any other money.  In a normal year we have a couple of major fundraising events, the Wharfedale 3 Peaks and Grassington Dickensian festival. These, along with our attending a number of fell races and Knaresborough Bed Race to provide safety cover as well as raising awareness and funds for the team.  All these events have fallen victim to the Covid restrictions in place and this has resulted in a marked reduction in the money we have raised this year.

Regardless how much money we raise each year it soon seems to get spent, especially on the latest technology which plays such an amazing part in our rescue operations these days and as such really improves the chances of quicker and successful outcomes.  We are constantly looking at the new kit that comes out and assessing to see if it can enhance our capabilities.   This year the team have, along with some of our neighbouring teams, continued the work on setting up a new radio communications network which, once fully operational, will enable the team to communicate with each other from anywhere in our patch, a major improvement on what we have had in the past.  We are also looking at replacing the throw lines used by our water rescue team and the main hauling devices used on pitches.

Christmas is also a good time to remind everyone heading into the hills, maybe to try out their new presents, that you need to plan ahead, dress for the conditions you are going to experience, pack waterproofs, warm clothing, a torch and a spare, take a map and compass and know how to use them.  If you do take your phone do not rely on it and have it fully charged. It is also useful to have apps that give you your location pre loaded so you have one less thing to worry about if something happens, OS Locate and What3Words are both suitable, for more information see https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/guides/oslocate/ and https://what3words.com/news/emergency/three-words-for-a-faster-emergency-response/.  Should the worst happen call 999 and ask for the Police and then ask them for Mountain Rescue giving details of your location and the nature of the incident, we will be with you as soon as we can.

We would like to thank all those who have supported the Team throughout this difficult year, especially our families and friends who have had plans disrupted, special occasions and meals missed as we head out to help those in difficulty.

Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a safe New Year.

More details about the team including how to donate to us can be found by visiting  www.uwfra.org.uk/support-UWFRA.php or our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/UWFRA.

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