Page last updated at 07:13 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Wales' 4x4 volunteers called to rescue in big freeze

By Nick Dermody
BBC News website

A group line up of vehicles during a training session
4x4x Response Wales holds regular training sessions to keep up drivers' skills

A volunteer group of off-road drivers has dealt with dozens of call-outs during Wales' big freeze.

4x4 Response Wales has ferried doctors, nurses and police officers along miles of snow and ice-filled rural roads to reach people in isolated properties.

It is the first major test of the group since it was formed at the beginning of 2008 from one established in Powys.

Founder Mark Margetts, 49, said: "We recognise this is a once-in-30 years situation but it's stretching us."

The organisation is part of the 4x4 Response Network, which has more than two dozen similar groups around the UK.

"Responders" train with their own vehicles to develop driving skills and volunteer to help emergency, police, NHS and local authority workers reach vulnerable clients or difficult locations.

Not only have they got to get into a place, they have got to get out of it as well - the responder is also responsible for the passenger, which is quite often a doctor or nurse or care worker
Mark Margetts, 4xx4 Response Wales

They most commonly expect to be called out when flooding makes roads impassable for routine driving but, since the beginning of the freeze, more than 100 volunteers around Wales have dealt with calls day and night.

One task ended with an RAF rescue helicopter airlifting a man from his home after a doctor was taken to the property by a 4x4 responder.

Mr Margetts said: "Our guy had tried three different routes to get the doctor to the property. Eventually he got him to within a kilometre and they walked the rest.

'Judgment and training'

"The doctor was able to stabilise the patient but he needed to be got to hospital and that's where the helicopter went in.

"The kind of places that we get called to tend to be remote rural locations and the last stretch is off road.

"In this case, we were only able to get within a kilometre of the property.

"The driver uses his judgment and his training and if he thinks the best thing is to get out and walk, then they get out and walk.

A 4x4 in the snow
The 4x4 drivers take doctors, nurses, midwives and police to their destination

"Not only have they got to get into a place, they have got to get out of it as well.

"The responder is also responsible for the passenger, which is quite often a doctor or nurse or care worker."

Since the prolonged cold spell, the group, a charity, has dealt with tasks across Wales.

Both North Wales Police and Dyfed-Powys Powys called on responders to take officers to or from police stations or out to incidents at remote locations.

Others have taken doctors, midwives and district nurses to and from clients.

The group has regular training sessions in off-road skills, navigation, First Aid and vehicle recovery.

Husband-and-wife teams

Business consultant Mr Margetts said the membership has around 10 women volunteers, including five husband-and-wife teams.

He said: "We have every occupation you can find, from business managers and IT consultants through to recovery drivers, people in nursing and health care, doctors, ex-firemen, ex-policemen, and grave diggers and undertakers."

Wayne Jones, principal emergency planning officer for Powys, said he had tasked the group around 70 times in the past four weeks using an text-message service set up with help from the county council.

He said: "We would have struggled to provide a lot of our services without the assistance of the group.

"This is a very positive example of 4x4 off-road drivers. They do sometimes get a lot negative press and rightly so in some cases.

"But this is a very positive case. They are basically assisting the community in which they live. It gives you faith in humanity."

Print Sponsor

Search and Rescue in the snow
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Off-roaders form 4x4 rescue team
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