One hill of a job: Bolton Mountain Rescue chief reveals team’s hidden role in finding missing persons

Think mountain rescue teams and scenes of dramatic cliff-top rescues and life-saving expeditions at dizzying heights come to mind.

But, in fact, a modern mountain rescue team is more likely to join the search for a missing person than be a death-defying saviour, especially in urban areas such as Bolton.

Bolton Mountain Rescue Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, 56, first joined the team in 1974 as a 16-year-old after replying to an advert in a climbing magazine.

He received his MBE in the December 2007 New Year’s Honours list for services to Bolton Mountain Rescue. Garry is now in his third spell at the team and has played a key role in his current 31-year stint.

Since joining the team, he has been involved in over 1000 separate callouts and incidents, each callout offering a different challenge.

Garry spoke to MM about the role of his team and how it differs from common public perceptions.

“Regardless of our name, because that’s the generic name for the organisation, we actually cover the moorlands to the north of Bolton and Bury,” said Garry.

“Over the years, the police have come to realise that for missing people anywhere, mountain rescue, including our team, can supply expertise in searching.

“It’s incredibly rare hill walkers go missing and don’t find their way off, so most of our search work comes from the police.

“We’re just as likely to be looking for a missing Alzheimer’s person in Wythenshawe as we are to be looking for a missing child at Rivington who has wandered off from their family on a day out.”

Bolton Mountain Rescue Team also do a lot of work with the ambulance service, both in assisting with access to a casualty and transporting casualties to the ambulance.

“What the public don’t realise is that a modern ambulance doesn’t have an old-fashioned stretcher in it where people can carry you,” Garry said.

“The image of like two ambulance men carrying you on a stretcher doesn’t actually exist.

“We’ve sometimes been called for example to carry injured athletes off sports fields and other times it’s somebody within urban woodland and also it can be in a difficult to reach location.

“A traditional mountain rescue team in the Lake District for example is mainly going into the countryside and up mountains, but my team gets used a lot where it’s equipment and resources and labour to the incidents as well.”

Mountain rescue in England and Wales is classed as a 999 service but the teams are primarily contacted by the main emergency services rather than by the public directly.

Bolton Mountain Rescue Team use a pager system rather than mobile phones while on operations – as pagers provide better signal at altitude.

Missing person searches in Greater Manchester frequently involve mountain rescue teams and the Bolton group play a major part in many of those searches.

The Bolton team can be called to assist the emergency services in terrains as diverse as Manchester city centre or out on the moorlands.

“Because we sit on the edge of a conurbation, we get involved in searches for missing people anywhere,” said Garry.

“Primarily, it’s the western part of Manchester because the Oldham team covers the eastern part.

“With the ambulance service, our main sort of clients really now are mountain bikers, horse riders and walkers who have stumbled.

“It’s a real mishmash of what we do to be honest.”

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