Following a dream...
As a young lad I was heavily involved in Scouting and I loved being outdoors. I learned so much about nature and living off the land. I thoroughly enjoyed navigating and map reading. I also found First Aid training interesting and it wasn’t long before I had filled my arms with badges and awards. I loved camping and spent most of my weekends camping with my fellow scouts, hiking across the Peak District Hills, kayaking down local rivers or climbing and abseiling in local quarries.
It was inevitable given my love of nature and fascination with science that I would go on to take A’ level Biology at school and this put me in good stead later when I trained in slaughter houses as a Student Environmental Health Officer (EHO). I found that I was able to put of out my mind the sad practice of killing animals by concentrating on the fascinating biological systems exposed by the process. Training to be an EHO was tough and I was often heard grumbling with my fellow students about the amount of time we had to spend studying. We were required to attend lectures for up to 40 hours per week which, when compared to the other students who I shared accommodation with, seemed excessive – especially when they were only required to attend 10 hours of lectures a week! In addition to the university workload I was required to work at a Local Authority as part of my training. Whilst my roommates went home to their families to relax for the holidays, I would be found working in the Borough of Northampton as a student EHO. I would spend my weekends studying and falling asleep at my desk and I soon began to forget about the pull of the outdoors and how I had enjoyed it so much. In 2008, I went to work at Birmingham City Council in the Specialist Health and Safety Team investigating fatal and major incidents. My time in this team would turn out to be the best of my Environmental Health career and I soon found my skills stretched and improved until I reached the top of my game. It was during this job that I travelled around the country training fellow EHOs. Having investigated a number of gas explosions in catering businesses, I found myself somewhat an expert in Gas Safety within the Catering Sector and I trained hundreds of my colleagues around the country on how to carry out health and safety inspections within kitchens. Being flown up to Edinburgh to present at a conference was a highlight in my career and whilst it made me feel good about what I was doing, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that it just wasn’t for me. The Health and Safety Team members were a great bunch of people and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. The work was tough and emotionally draining but the team pulled together and everyone looked out for each other. I investigated my first fatal accident, whilst at Cannock Chase District Council at the age of 24. Whilst that hadn’t been my first exposure to a dead body, I hadn’t realised how much it had affected me until years later when, after investigating a number of other fatal incidents, I was given Post Traumatic Stress Disorder training. This work had taken its toll on my emotional state, changing me indefinitely and it was one of a number of reasons why I left the team to concentrate on main stream Environmental Health work.
It was during my time with the Health and Safety Team, however, that I rediscovered the joys of being outdoors. With a few of my team colleagues we decided to take part in an event to raise money for the NSPCC by hiking 22 miles across the Malvern Hills. Clearly, I would need to carry out a lot of training as it had been years since I had attempted to walk so far. I would spend the next few months before the event training with my colleagues by wandering around Cannock Chase or the Peak District. The training gave us plenty of time to chat and I would find myself talking to my fellow teammates about how I “used to love being outdoors spending time surrounded by nature.” They probably got bored with hearing me say it. It’s not often that you meet someone who you can really call a friend, but I’ve learned if you are lucky enough you may meet someone in your life who completely fills all of the criteria and can be called a true friend. Whilst the lads in the team dropped off with their training (they probably got fed up of me talking about how I used to love being in the outdoors!), my dear friend Surindar carried on dragging me all over the Peak District, testing both our stamina and our navigating skills. She was, and still is, someone who offers encouragement unreservedly and we found ourselves talking about our love for the outdoors during our walks. On one of our walks, as she listened to me complain about being an EHO and how I found it so tough, I went on to tell her about how I used to travel to the Lakes with fellow Scouts and how I thoroughly loved it. I told her how I would have loved to have joined the Mountain Rescue Teams up there and, true to form, her simple reply would change my life. “Why don’t you join them then? If it’s what you want to do – go for it!” At the time I would not even begin to realise how her words of encouragement would later change my life, but she had stirred something within me that encouraged me to search for a way to join an organisation like Mountain Rescue. I found myself trawling the internet and researching it further as soon as I got back home. Of course, I lived in Staffordshire in the UK where there are no mountains and is no Mountain Rescue Team so clearly, that wasn’t an option without uprooting my family and moving up to the north of the country. It was then that I came across an organisation called Staffordshire Search and Rescue Team (SSART). SSART is made up of volunteers from all walks of life who give up their spare time to train and assist the Police, and other emergency services, to locate missing vulnerable people. I had found an organisation, close to both my heart and my home and I knew there and then that it was meant to be. I contacted them via their website and awaited their reply. To be continued….