Video report by Sara O’Kane (part-filmed before government restrictions )
For four decades, volunteers have been dropping everything at a moment’s notice and braving all kinds of conditions to save lives as part of the North West Mountain Rescue Team.
The organisation was founded in Londonderry in 1980 and was originally intended to provide a rescue service for the North West.
Today, it covers all of Northern Ireland – although the Mournes have their own dedicated team – and has bases in Enniskillen, Magherafelt and Ballymena.
As part of Mountain Rescue Ireland, it also provides support to any other team on the island of Ireland as required.
Sixty volunteers commit to undertaking rigorous and ongoing training to maintain the necessary skills to provide assistance to those in need.
“It really is a case of just literally drop everything and go,” team leader Keith Thompson told UTV.
“I’m self-employed, so thankfully I can get away with that most times and can literally close up and go.”
It is certainly a tough role, with volunteers required to be available at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year – whatever the weather.
And while successful rescues bring a huge sense of achievement and pride, sadly not all operations come with that kind of outcome.
Sometimes volunteers know they have been tasked with a recovery rather than a rescue.
“It gives you a great deal of satisfaction when you can help somebody who’s in a bad situation,” team member Barney O’Loughlin noted.
But he knows that recovery situations, although difficult, are also hugely important.
“At least you’re getting the body back to the family,” he said.
While the North West Mountain Rescue Team has 40 years of experience when it comes to all kinds of rescue situations, it is currently facing an unprecedented challenge.
The coronavirus pandemic adds a new layer to meticulous preparations.
However, the dedicated volunteers remain on standby, ready to respond whenever and wherever they may be needed.
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