The year is 2011 and it is a cold, wet, miserable November’s evening. The team leader of the Galway Mountain Rescue Team is working late, finishing up a few last minute jobs for the following morning. It has been a long day, and he looks forward to finishing work and heading home. His decision on where to get dinner is soon interrupted by the sound of his emergency phone.
Ronan takes a moment to collect his thoughts and answers it. Two minutes into the conversation and he knows this is the phone call he has been dreading. The operator explained that he had received a distress call from the Maamturk Mountains. A woman had been hiking all day and had taken a fall on her descent from the mountains. She cannot walk and believed her ankle was broken. She had given him her approximate location and the operator reassured her that he would pass the details to the rescue team immediately.
The Galway Mountain Rescue Team is a voluntary organization which provide a search and rescue service in the remote and mountainous areas of county Galway. It was established in 1980 and is staffed by 34 volunteers who give of their time to provide the service free of charge to all those in need. Ireland and the UK are unique in this respect as a mountain rescue in the rest of Europe can be an expensive proposition and this fact contributes to Ireland’s popularity as a hillwalking holiday destination.
In 2010 team members spent 620 hours on duty which equates to over 77 full working days. This does not take into account time given over to training, equipment maintenance and administration. Ten people were rescued, ranging from a 12-year-old boy on Mothers Day to a 60-year-old pilgrim on Reek Sunday.
The Galway Team currently receives 50 per cent of its €30,000 running costs from the State. The remainder comes from donations or fundraising events. In 2011, Galway Mountain Rescue and its 11 sister teams which make up Mountain Rescue Ireland expect to see their funding cut by 54 per cent. This current proposed funding reduction will force a reduction in service capacity to approximately 1996 levels. The teams will be unable to fund training or insurance costs, resulting in a reduction of the number of professionally trained volunteers by approximately 30 per cent. Aging vehicles will not be replaced, removing approximately 50 per cent of current four- wheel drive response vehicles from operation. The cuts will also force teams to use and maintain older less efficient and effective equipment. These cuts come at a time when increasing numbers are taking to the great outdoors to cast off the recessionary blues and hillwalking tourists are contributing €183 million to the Irish economy.
The operator waited patiently as Ronan checked his computer screen to see how many team members he had available for this mission. Recent funding cuts had a serious impact on his team, reducing his members to a skeleton staff of 24. Had this call come last year, he would already be dispatching his team to respond. Now he had to be sure he had enough people power to follow through with the rescue before accepting the task. Knowing he needed at least 20 people for a stretcher rescue, Ronan frantically counted the names of his available team members to scratch together a response.
Back on the hill, the woman lay silently on the ledge. She pulled her scarf up over her mouth and her woolly hat down over her ears, and tucking her hands back into her pockets, she prayed while waiting for help to come. Her clothes were damp and she shivered with the cold. She was lonely out here in the dark, and a little afraid…
Right now this is just a story but if government cuts continue it may well become reality. Please support your local mountain rescue team. Tell your elected representatives, both national and local, to speak out against these funding cuts. If you can afford to support its fundraising events, please do.