Helena Skinn - Mountain Rescue volunteer

 Photo by  Adrian Ashworth

I met up with Helena in the Peak District village of Edale, where she was on duty with the Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team at the finish line of the Trigger fell race. The runners started at 8am, it’s now 2:30 and they are crossing the line after six and half hours of running through 24 miles of bog and cloud. There’s snow on the ground, and some of the runners look exhausted and on the verge of hypothermia.

At the finish line, the MRT are waiting - Helena sits with each runner for a minute, checking that they are ok. As we chat, she stops to wrap one of them in a warm blanket and pass him a hot drink. When she isn't volunteering she's out fell running, long distance trail running, and walking. She also works as a packaging developer for Unilever. "It's a normal 9-5 job, Monday to Friday."

"Your family comes first, your job comes second, and Mountain Rescue comes third. Obviously we're providing a service and we can’t pick and choose when we’re on call - we're on call 24/7. There are instances where I can’t get out of work, but more often than not, if it's towards the end of the day they let me go if I get a shout. We work around each other really."

Helena has been a full team member for three years now. "It’s difficult to descibe a typical call out. You might have a snatch, where you know exactly where they are but they might be in the middle of the moors and they can’t move because they’re broken their leg. Or it might be searching for a missing person, either urban or out in the countryside. 

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In addition to being a regular team member, Helena is trained in casualty care. "I had a year’s worth of intensive training when I joined. We need those skills because you might be the first on the scene and you’re not going to have an ambulance or a paramedic nearby. We can administer drugs that a normal first aider can’t. We have the skills ready to preserve a life."  

She initially volunteered because "I wanted to give something back. I’ve come across incidents when I’ve met people that needed help and I’ve not known what to do. Now I know exactly what to do. It’s nice being that person on the other side because when you need help, it’s daunting. "

"It can be quite tough, physically and emotionally. But when I see someone in distress, I know that I'm doing something to help them. In the main they're doing a lot better with you there than if they were in that situation on their own."

The most rewarding part is "Being able to support and help people whose loved ones are missing or injured. When you see the look of panic, you can imagine how desperate you’d feel in that situation. When you go to a shout with a happy ending, you’ve saved someone’s life, you know you’ve made a difference."

At the moment Helena is the only female in a team of 45. "The team is heavily male oriented. At first I was really self conscious of that. I thought Come on Helena man up, don’t be a girl. I’d step forward all the time to carry the big stuff. I needed to prove myself. It might all have been in my head, but I felt that I should. But now that I’m in the team you can't tell the difference. I get asked to do as much as anyone else."  

 Photo by Mark Crawshaw

Photo by Mark Crawshaw

"There’s a lot of good banter. It’s a nice big family, everyone's got your back, and when you're on a call out it’s like a well oiled machine. You know who to rely on because you've been training with them for so long. On certain shouts you might get asked to do something that particularly plays to your strengths, so typically I would get called out for a hasty party because I’m a fell runner. I’d have less kit, but I’d get to the casualty quicker. Then you need people that can carry all the kit, although it will probably take a bit longer, you need all kinds of people in the team."

"I don’t know why there’s so little female interest, I’ve never found any animosity in the team against women, they’re always very supportive. Actually it’s beneficial for the team to have women there, a female casualty might not always want to be dealt with by a fella. If I come across a female casualty I’ll be there supporting the person that’s treating them, or I might treat her."

"To be a Mountain Rescue volunteer you need to want to help other people. There’s no other reason you’d be in it because it takes a big commitment, you need to offer a lot of time. There’s been occasions when I’ve been out searching all night, and I've had to spend time with the family the next day, it can be hard sometimes. You need to be committed, keen to help others, and open minded. You have to be easy going, go along with the flow, but at the same time you know what you need to do to save someone or to try and help them. It’s really good, I really like it!"

"If you're thinking about volunteering, do it, why not! If you’ve got a keen interest in the outdoors, you want to give something back, and you want to be better prepared for situations and injuries out on the hill. It’s really rewarding, it’s nice to give that back."

To call out the Mountain Rescue - Dial ‘999’ ask for the Police, when connected ask for Mountain Rescue.  

The Trigger race is an annual fundraising event for Woodhead MRT, which is entirely staffed by volunteers and funded by donations. Visit the Woodhead Mountain Rescue website if you'd like to support them. There are six other teams across the Peak District, based at Buxton, Derby, Edale, Glossop, Kinder, and Oldham.