Helping the emergency services to help others
We all know that the emergency services are just a three-digit phone call away but did you know that they sometimes have to call on members of the general public to assist them?
It’s long been the case that the emergency services have approached owners of four-wheel drive vehicles to assist them in times of bad weather by helping to transport people, equipment, food, and medical supplies both on public roads and, if need be, across open country, through woodland, and on off-road tracks.
In the past, such assistance was sought by contacting the likes of vehicle owner’s clubs and asking them to approach members to help out. Although the help requested was usually forthcoming, what was really needed was a system or network through which assistance could be quickly and easily obtained from trained people with an appropriate skill set.
The first steps towards such a network came in 1999, when extreme weather conditions in Norfolk resulted in the creation of a group called 4×4 Response. Composed of owners of four-wheel drive vehicles, the group sought to offer and provide assistance to the emergency services in a structured and coordinated manner.
The creation of this group led to the formation of the National 4×4 Response Network in 2006, an umbrella organisation that now covers 35 regional groups based throughout the UK. And since 2010, it has included a group which covers a large area which includes Ayrshire: the Strathclyde 4×4 Response Group.
Formed of volunteers, the Group provides round the clock support to the emergency services, civil authorities and other essential service providers during adverse weather conditions and other emergencies. For example, in 2013 the Group took part in a major relief operation on Arran when heavy snowfall resulted in a three day power outage. In 2018, it helped to transport doctors, nurses, and district nurses during the adverse weather conditions experienced when the ‘Beast from the East’ struck. It was called upon to do so again in 2021, when it also transported renal patients to hospital for dialysis.
The Group is not classed as an emergency service and its vehicles are not equipped with blue lights and sirens. It works with the bodies which comprise the West of Scotland Regional Resilience Partnership (basically, the emergency services, local authorities, and health boards) and a range of other welfare bodies.
Given the nature and function of the bodies whom the Group supports, anyone wishing to join the Group in any capacity must agree to be vetted by Disclosure Scotland under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme and by Police Scotland under the Non Police Personnel Vetting scheme.
In addition to the vetting process, anyone wishing to join the Group and become a responder must own or have access to a four-wheel drive vehicle which they are insured to drive. They must also undergo training to achieve demonstrable competence in four key areas: basic off-road driving, map reading and navigation, operation of radio equipment, and first aid. Training is provided by the Group, with both the radio and first aid courses leading to recognised qualifications. The training programme culminates in a simulated real-world call out exercise scenario which acts as a practical assessment of a would-be responder’s ability to put their training into practice. Maintaining skill levels is, of course, of paramount importance, and to this end training is provided to Group members on an ongoing basis. Moreover, responders are re-assessed every two years.
The Group is a registered charity and does not receive direct funding from the public purse. The 45 members of the Group (of whom 37 are responders) are all volunteers. Their reward is the deep satisfaction gained from helping others in times of need, and that’s a feeling money can’t buy.