Work ongoing to improve response to major emergencies

Flooding in North Yorkshire.

The role of hundreds of volunteers who are available to deal with emergencies is being honed to ensure that the response across North Yorkshire can be effective as possible.

Teams of volunteers are on hand to help with the emergency response to a wide variety of incidents, including road and rail crashes, extreme weather incidents or major health crises such as the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

Officials say the increasing occurrence of severe weather has placed a growing demand on resources and the work of the Ready For Anything volunteers as well as the specialist major incident response team (MIRT).

Plans are now being drawn up to ensure that the response to incidents across England’s largest county are more co-ordinated, and talks are to be held between North Yorkshire Council and other agencies involved in emergency planning.

An event will be staged at the Emergency Planning College in Easingwold next month involving the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum, which is overseen by the council, and organisations ranging from the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance to the emergency services, as well as local volunteer groups involved in responding to incidents.

North Yorkshire Council’s leader, Cllr Carl Les, whose responsibilities include emergency planning, said: “We are very aware of how important the roles of volunteers are in our responses to emergencies.

“They are often the unsung heroes of these incidents, helping out in the heart of communities that are affected and providing invaluable support to the emergency services.

“Their work is even more important now, especially as we are seeing a growing number of severe weather events that can affect households and businesses in any part of the county at any time of the year.

“The work to provide an even greater focus on how we respond to emergencies will ensure that the impact of major incidents is lessened as much as possible for communities throughout North Yorkshire.”

The MIRT initiative, which was launched more than 30 years ago, is the only dedicated team of its kind in the country and incorporates 25 highly-trained volunteers who can be called on to help with major emergencies both in the county and nationally.

Members of MIRT were involved in the response to the Great Heck rail disaster near Selby in 2001, as well as a series of major flooding events including when Storm Debi arrived in November and the Marine Residence Hotel fire in Scarborough in July last year.

The team of Ready For Anything volunteers was created in the wake of the widespread flooding during the festive period in 2015 after Storm Eva swept across the country bringing widespread disruption.

The joint initiative between North Yorkshire Council and City of York Council now has 350 volunteers who are given specialist training to help to deal with emergencies.

The UK is on the verge of experiencing a record storm season following a succession of extreme weather events in recent months. The nation is close to beating its record for the highest number of named storms, which currently stands at 10, within the annual naming period, which starts in September each year.

Residents and businesses in North Yorkshire were placed on high alert last month (January) when Storm Isha swept across the country bringing widespread disruption, followed by Storm Jocelyn less than 48 hours later.

North Yorkshire Council’s head of resilience and emergencies, Matt Robinson, said: “We already have a countywide team of experienced and skilled volunteers who are available to help with responses to emergencies.

“However, we are seeing more events especially with severe weather that require us to become involved, and we are therefore looking to build on the network that is already available and work even closer with local, regional and national volunteer groups and organisations.

“While we can provide expert knowledge and support, communities which have been affected are so important in the response – they are the ones who know the local area and those people who may need the greatest help.”

One of the current members of MIRT is Caren Horsfield, who has volunteered with the team since 1998.

She spent two years helping the communities affected by the Great Heck train crash, supporting bereaved families, survivors and nearby residents. She has also been involved in the efforts to deal with flooding in Tadcaster, having set up a rest centre at Tadcaster Grammar School, and was on standby during heavy rainfall over the past few months.

Mrs Horsfield, who lives in Eggborough, said: “The role involves providing emotional and practical support to people, from those suffering from a bereavement or a major incident such as flooding.

“It can include attending the scene, talking to witnesses and going to court cases or inquests. I have met many people over the years, making friends through lived situations. I’m one of the longest servers.”

A member of the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team (SRMRT) has also spoken of the pride he takes in the work that the unit does to help during emergency incidents.

The team, which is based in the village of Snainton, is made up of about 50 unpaid volunteers and among them is incident controller Roger Hartley. A former RAF ground equipment mechanic and mountain rescuer, he has been involved with the SRMRT for more than 20 years.

Mr Hartley, who lives in Whitby, said: “Volunteering with the SRMRT is extremely satisfying. Everybody does their bit and works together.

“What we can achieve is amazing and it’s a great feeling to make a difference. I would say there is also a sense of relief at a job completed.”

Details of both the MIRT and Ready for Anything teams are available at www.northyorks.gov.uk/NYLRFVolunteers on the council’s website.

The council is celebrating the difference that volunteers make by sharing stories from across the county as part of the Team North Yorkshire campaign. More information about volunteering is available at www.northyorks.gov.uk/TeamNorthYorkshire online.