This evening we were give a most interesting talk by Gill Leaman who has been a volunteer with Wiltshire Search and Rescue for eight and a half years. Wiltshire Search and Rescue became a registered charity in 2003 and is a partner of Mountain Rescue. We have no mountains in Wiltshire and so their focus is on lowland search, most often for vulnerable people.
There are about seventy members, all volunteers, answerable to the Police who call them out when they are needed, day or night. Some searches have been known to go on, non-stop, for up to six days! To be a member you must be over 18, physically fit, able to walk five miles in two hours, and be prepared to undergo training, team training, weekend residential, water safety, basic life support and safeguarding refresher courses. You have to be committed to attending ten searches a year.
Categories for searches are for people who are “Absent”, that is not where they are expected to be, and “Missing” which is also not where they are expected to be but their no-show is out of character and so they may be seemed to be at risk or subject to a crime. Searches are made for missing children, the elderly, dementia sufferers (not always elderly) people with mental health issues and by far the most common, despondent. They are also occasionally asked to look for evidence.
When a call out is needed, an SMS message is sent to everyone. From those who have responded a Team Leader is appointed, a planning manager to designate the areas of search, and a driver. Teams of three are then sent out. They need to be prepared to be outdoors for up to six hours. There is one vehicle, kept at Devizes, equipped for the search with computers and radio. Someone is also covering refreshment and after the search is completed there is a team of specific counsellors on hand should the volunteers need them. Volunteers use maps as well as GPS since one never knows how long a phone battery will last.
Wiltshire Search and Rescue also have access to search dogs from neighbouring counties, we now have two of our own in training and there are six fully trained flood managers.
Funding comes from “fundraising”. They need £11,000 – £12,000 a year to operate. A new vehicle costs about £30,000 and they would really like another one. They are also considering the use of drones, but again, they are expensive.
I had no idea that this team existed, I was under the impression that searches we see on TV were all police personnel. It was an excellent presentation and a real eye-opener.
Thank you Gail, and keep up the good work!
Notes by Mary Southgate