Unfortunately, Lionel Murphy, the Wellington WI’s speaker from Exmoor Search and Rescue wasn’t able to bring Lottie or Poppy, the team’s search dogs, with him, but members were very taken with the fully kitted-out cuddly toy version he brought instead. Lionel himself had been an operational member of the team for many years before illness made him decide to transfer to the support team, whose members give talks and raise funds to support the operational work.
After a short film about the range of activities the team might be involved in, Lionel gave the WI more detail, and answered questions. The service began 25 years ago as a local Civil Defence organisation, started by keen walkers wanting to help people in difficulties. It is based in South Molton, all members are volunteers, and they are on call permanently. They work as a police resource in collaboration with the Avon and Somerset and Devon forces, plus the ambulance, fire and rescue, and coastguard services. As well, the team is part of England and Wales Search and Rescue, and can be called to any part of the country.
It takes 12-18 months to train volunteers. Training includes core skills such as searching, navigation, map reading and first aid, as well as how to behave at a crime scene. Some team members also train in complex rope work such as that needed to manage stretchers, in collaboration with the Fire and Rescue Service. Others have trained to be Swift Water Rescue Technicians, and in 2015 seven of them went to York, where they spent a week over Christmas helping to rescue people from flooding. Last year team members helped out during heavy snow in the south west. Another group are trained in casualty care almost to the level of Emergency Technicians. This training is undertaken in hospitals.
Surprisingly, Search and Rescue teams work in urban as well as rural areas, searching on land and water, using dogs, boats and climbing gear as necessary. The Exmoor team mostly undertakes searches for people missing for around two weeks, which can take up to five days. They may also be involved in emergency responses to major incidents, and a team can be operational within an hour of callout. Vehicles are kept both in South Molton and at Taunton Fire Station.
The nature and location of their work requires good communications, and a range of radios and aerials are used for this. Team members also carry medical equipment, ropes, food and drink, clothing and personal equipment for all weathers and times of day. The control vehicle carries specialist equipment including a defibrillator and trauma kit. Team members provide their own fleeces, trousers and boots.
There are currently 30 operational members and eight trainees, and more volunteers are always welcome. There are no fitness tests, but fitness is monitored. Lottie and Poppy belong to their owners, and are also members of the Search and Rescue Dog Association.
Lionel and his support team members help to raise the £20,000 annual cost of providing the service, which responds to 20 to 40 incidents a year, some of which last more than one day.
During the break, recent photographs taken by members of the Photographic Group were shown, and there was also a static display of the winning photographic entries from Wellington Flower Show.
In the business session, Maria Dorpman and Lynda Wilkinson were welcomed as new committee members. Maria will take over as our community ambassador. the skittles team was very pleased with its recent win in the county skittles tournament, and even more delighted by the news that they had been given a bye in the next round.
We are committed to supporting the work of the British Legion in the run up to Remembrance Day, and several members will help out at their Gala Concert. As well, we will again be putting up a display of knitted and crocheted poppies around the War Memorial in Wellington Park, and in the town centre.
Our next meeting is on 15 November, 7.00 for 7.30 at the Beambridge Inn, when Max Dalder-Mueller will talk about addiction. Visitors and new members are most welcome to join us.