Women in Mountain Rescue: Becky Isles
Womenclimb want to encourage more women to see Mountain Rescue as something they can get involved in, as despite an increase in women in MR in the last 15 years they still represent less than 20% of team members.
I met up with Becky in a little cafe in Sowerby Bridge and over a brew we chatted about our experiences in Mountain Rescue, why she got involved and how she manages to fit it around her career working as an A&E Registrar.
How long have you been in Calder Valley Search and Rescue team and what made you join?
I joined Calder Valley SRT in 2010 but I had been in Central Beacons MRT prior to that for two years. When I moved to Yorkshire for work I applied to move teams too.
In my last year at Central Beacons I started to get involved in casualty care training for the team using my medical skills, but I’d not really been in the team long enough to be involved at a more senior level.
When I applied to join Calder Valley they were very enthusiastic about me joining and I was only involved for a few weeks before I got involved in assisting the medical officer with his duties. Following the AGM a year later I was then elected into the medical officer role formally. We have a policy of a 5 year term for any officer role in our team so I’ve just completed my term as the medical officer and now have been elected as an assistant leader.
I’ll still be involved in the medical aspects of the team as one of two doctors in the team. We don’t have an official team doctor, the medical officer role can be anyone who is interested, it is just a bit easier if you are medically qualified.
I get involved in the rolling training programme around medical skills and every 3 years we run the formal casualty care course training and re-certifying 30-40 members each time. We try to ensure that we get a variety of external speakers in to do the formal Casualty Care training so the team members get a different experience and view point. I make use of specialists who I know to help with this so its not just Alastair (the other doctor in the team) and I. The examiners for the Casualty care are medical professional from outside of our team.
I assist with doing exams for other teams and assist in training in other teams when I can, I still assist in South Wales with the teaching of their regional casualty care courses.
I joined Mountain Rescue because I thought it would be fun!
I made the decision on a trip to Scotland kayaking, but due to lack of water we’d gone hiking for the day. Whilst out in a remote valley we had come across an injured hiker who had no means to get himself off the hill or to contact mountain rescue. We called Glencoe Mountain rescue who came out to assist the man. During the call out I got talking to someone in the team and it sparked an interest with me. I had a lack of free time as I was completing my degree but I eventually contacted my local team Central Beacons MRT who were very enthusiastic about having me.
How do you manage to fit the commitments to the team around your work and family life?
It helps that my partner Rob is also in the team and accepts the fact that plans change and life can go out of the window. We’ve been trying to decorate our bedroom for weeks now as we keep getting called out at the weekend!
Whilst I have a crazy life working shifts it means that I can be available when some people are at work. When I’m on night shifts, I can get up for a call during the day and then go back to bed. It’s no different than someone working during the day and having to respond to an evening call which means they are out searching till 2am. They still have to get up for work the following morning.
The team are understanding that if I’m not there is because I’m at work rather than not turning up. The team is quite flexible and understanding with people’s work commitments. I move around West Yorkshire hospitals in my current role so I have a lot of flexibilities and know the area well.
Our team have something on every Tuesday night including twice monthly training, maintenance of team equipment and vehicles as well as business meetings to make decisions about running the team.
We then also have a core skills day in Feb/March, weekend water training and probationary assessments at the start of the year which the wider team assist with plus other adhoc training at the weekends too.
We share out other roles so I tend to do less talks to groups or many events due to my work commitments.
What’s the best thing about being a member of mountain rescue?
I really enjoy it and I think it’s great fun – I get to do things I wouldn’t normally do and meet really interesting people who I don’t think I would have met otherwise.
The social side to the team is really great.
What has been the most difficult thing for you during the time that you’ve been a in Mountain Rescue? How do you deal with such situations?
Whilst I was in the Central Beacons team we had a difficult call out to search for someone. The search was relatively simple and short as the person was found by a dog handler quite quickly, but unfortunately they were found dead. It was difficult dealing with the family who were there and trying to make sure they didn’t find out what had happened before the police could deal with the scene.
Because of what I do for my job as an A&E Registrar I’ve developed coping strategies for dealing with death. I feel like it affects me less than other team members although it’s certainly very different finding someone outside rather than dealing with it in a hospital environment.
There’s a good support structure in our team, with leaders taking responsibility for following up on ensuring team members are ok and are able to talk to anyone, within or outside the team.
There’s also good training through MREW to enable team members to identify when others aren’t coping ok and having abnormal reactions to situations, recognising that team members have different reactions to dealing with issues and might be stressed even if they don’t seem it.
What life experiences have you had that have influenced you role in the team, if any?
I’ve always been quite outdoorsy. I grew up on a farm and I used to be a scout then became leader as a student. I couldn’t carry on with scouts when I started medicine due to the commitment and my work pattern. Mountain Rescue has filled the space to do things outside.
I’m currently an A&E Registrar – just about to complete training so I’ll be a consultant soon. This medical background has definitely influenced what I’ve got involved with in Mountain Rescue.
Were you already knowledgeable before you joined?
I’ve always done a lot of hiking and hill walking – long distance. I also kayaked a lot but don’t find time for this now. We have a strong water team within our team due to flooding incidents but I’ve not got involved in this due to the extra commitment for the week-long training needed.
How often does your team get called out and what are typical callouts in your team?
We get about 80 jobs a year. Sometimes 3 a week, sometimes none.
We do a lot of assisting the ambulance service with people in difficult and remote locations who are injured or unwell. We do some searches but we don’t tend to get the “traditional” call outs for lost walkers; you’re never that far from a road in our area so we can often direct people back to a road over the phone. When I was in the Central Beacons team we would get a lot more callouts for people truly lost and we’d have to search for them.
If someone would like to give it a try but they aren’t sure they have enough experience or knowledge, what would you say?
I’m not sure I’d get in if I tried now! I’m not sure if I’d get passed the selection stage as many people joining now have a lot of experience and skills before they join – they’re fell runners or really hill savvy with good navigation and really hill fit.
You need to be hill fit with good navigation to be in mountain rescue but we consider people on their merits. You’re a team member first and your expertise from your job is second – everyone’s equal.
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