Interview with Mike Park MBE – Mountain Rescue

Mike Park is a leader of The Cockermouth, Lake District Mountain rescue team, and he has recently been appointed an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Mike Park MBE - In his element!

46-year-old Mike, who works as a land surveyor in Cumbria, took some time out of his day to have a chat with me about his life with Mountain Rescue, how he feels about the award, and to give some tips on what to take to stay safe on the hills!

Congratulations on your MBE Mike – how does it feel to get this award?

Thanks- it feels good! Most of our team have worked in Cockermouth recue for 15 – 20 years, and 60% of all call outs are in the Lakes area so we have all worked hard for this award. I feel like the award has been handed to me as they don’t award groups, but I really wish they did. I’ve patched up no more people than the other 40 people in the team, and they all deserve this award- it’s for us all.

How long have you been working with MR and how did you get into it?

I’ve been working with Mountain Rescue for over 28 years, now. I got into it because my Dad was a member of the Cockermouth team for about 5 or 6 years before I joined, so I saw my Dad doing it, which meant I knew a bit about it before I joined.

So what’s a typical rescue like, if there is such a thing?

It could be anything when you get that call. You don’t know if it’s a straight leg injury, which means a patch up on a stretcher, or you could be out all night searching for someone who has hypothermia or a bad injury.

People fall off cliffs, jump from planes- and the floods were a problem too. The last floods in Cockermouth I was called at 9am one day and wasn’t back home for 5 and a half days! It’s that sort of environment.

Mountain rescue is completely voluntary. Sometimes we can do a rescue and people say thing like ‘Why didn’t you come faster’ or they expect you to just pop out of a helicopter immediately, but you have to explain to them that you’ve been at home with your kids. Mountain Rescue is made up of volunteers with normal jobs and lives to lead around rescues. It’s a big commitment.

Has it changed a lot in the years you have worked there?

In the time I have worked for the Mountain rescue I have seen a dramatic increase in the amount if call outs per year. The workload increase had been dramatic! Last year we had about 80 call outs, whereas it was typically 70 or less in the last 5 years. We are busier in general. I would say that isn’t just because of diversity, although we are doing more rescues in urban environments, I genuinely think that the increase has instead come from having more people on the hills in general.

That’s good for GO Outdoors then!

It is! There’s no certain type of people that are out there needing to be rescued either, it’s just the sheer volume that’s increased what we do. I think there’s a chance of mishaps, especially when you haven’t been out in bad conditions before, but anyone is at risk.

When should people call Mountain Rescue?

Mountain Rescue can be your first port of call if you are on the hills and injured.

Too often people call 999 and ask for an ambulance for a broken leg- and this ambulance has to come get you. However, if you are on the hills, Mountain Rescue may need to find you first before the ambulance, and sometimes, we are better equipped to do so. The best method is to call 999, ask for the police and then Mountain Rescue. Then we can advise.

We can airlift and find people (we use rescue helicopters around 20% of the time)  and depending on the location we also work with the local RAF in searches too.

What mistakes do you see out on the hills and how can people avoid accidents that are commonly seen on your rescues?

For me it’s all about switching your brain on before you go out! Thinking ‘what would I do if this happened’.  I mean my philosophy with navigation is to get lost! Literally! 50% of the time I’m up in the hills on a nice day I’m lost, and I like it that way because it prepares you for a trouble.

Lots of skills aren’t being learnt, you can have all the gear, and a new GPS, but if you haven’t used it and bad weather comes in, and you become lost, a situation can go from recoverable to pot!

I certainly think that not having the right equipment is a myth, the amount of shops like GO Outdoors that sell the right kit at the right price means that it’s to some extent a fashion industry- people are completely kitted out nowadays. The idea they are out in jeans and the wrong shoes is a bit of old thinking. The problem is they have lots of gear, but not the skills to use it. Skills like navigation, and simple things like checking the weather means you can stay a lot safer.

What about first aid and general gear –  any good advice for building the perfect kit up?

I don’t actually carry a first aid kit, but I do carry items that can work in a few ways. For example, I find a Buff works really well as a bandage, a walking pole can be used to strap up a leg, that sort of thing. If I buy a map I make sure it’s laminated so it can be used not only to navigate with, but also as a shield from the rain and somewhere to sit – keeps the cold off your bum!

I always have a headtorch, something robust and waterproof, with spare batteries.I would say, try get kit that works in a variety of ways. I think that a mobile phone is extremely helpful, and spare batteries, things like that, the simple items can really help. Another idea is to make sure that all your technical gear takes the same battery type so you aren’t in danger of forgetting any spares or running out.

Why is funding so important to the Mountain Rescue?

The funds help buy things like cars, kit, stretchers, ropes, GPS- and each area of mountain rescue is different, Dartmouth might need more handheld GPS, whereas we need more climbing ropes, that sort of thing.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to us!

Congratulations to Mike and the whole team from GO Outdoors!