Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue had a record number of call-outs last year. Jenny Cornish speaks to Jacqui Todd, one of a growing number of female volunteers, about what it means to be part of the lifesaving team
When people get lost in the dark and cold on the fells, or trapped underground in flooded caves, or stranded on a ledge on a precipice, the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association is called into action.
The UWFRA has been rescuing people and animals from remote places for more than 60 years and last year dealt with a record 44 incidents.
Jacqui Todd, 58, from Hebden, is an NHS physiotherapist and has been a member of UWFRA for the last three years.
She said: “I’ve been a very active person all my life, I’ve done a lot of running and walking and cycling in the Yorkshire Dales which is my favourite part of the world. I thought I could in a way put something back into the community.
“Fell Rescue is always there in a time of need – you need people who will be there to give their time and be available. The team is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It’s been a good opportunity to give something back to the community.”
Jacqui says volunteering for UWFRA has been immensely rewarding.
“What I didn’t expect, and what’s been great, is being part of a team and having that fellowship,” she said. “The team in itself have become a great group of friends. The fact you work with them in all weathers, at all times of the day, means you do develop these close links.
“In order to be able to do the job, you do have to be quite fit. It can be demanding if you’re having to walk quite a long way to do a rescue, or you’re having to search a wide area. You do need to have a lot of stamina and a lot of drive to commit to something.”
Now the association is launching a new event to help raise the £35,000 it needs each year to keep going. The UWFRA Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge will take place on Saturday, June 28, and offers three different distances – the full Three Peaks distance of 22 miles, a Two Peaks challenge of 13.5 miles, and a ‘Paradise Walk’ of 4.5 miles.
Jacqui said: “The thought of actually going and rescuing people sounds very exciting, and it is, it’s a very rewarding thing to do, but there’s a lot of time we need to spend practising and fundraising. The organisation is all voluntary-funded. It needs around £35,000 a year and we have to raise all that ourselves so fundraising is a big part of what we do.
“We need to transport ourselves and our equipment to the site – all of that equipment is expensive and it needs replacing on a regular basis. The time that we give is voluntary – nobody on the team is paid.”
The team works on a call-out system – everyone on the call-out list receives a text message and they respond to say whether or not they are available.
“There are enough of us to ensure there’s always enough people,” said Jacqui. “Sometimes when there have been caving incidents there have been call-outs that have involved the whole team. Quite often we’re requested to help with searches which can go on for one or two days. It does mean you have to have enough space in your life and enough time to be able to attend call-outs.”
One of the major incidents last year was rescuing the dog Wufra, a Saluki cross, from Buckden Pike.
This incident received national and international attention. “He’d been left up there for weeks – we went up there one Sunday morning, it was very wet and windy, and brought this dog down,” said Jacqui. “The dog is doing very well now – he’s going to come along to the event in June.”
They also took part in an overnight rescue of two cavers who had got stuck in Dow Cave, the network near Kettlewell.
“What we do is very mixed and very varied,” said Jacqui. “You need to have navigation skills, and the ability to work and navigate in any conditions.”
To find out more about the association, go to www.uwfra.org.uk. Facebook at www.facebook.com/uwfra.three.peaks.challenge and Twitter @Uwfra3Challenge.