Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The diary of a rally rescue girl

Rachel Medich, from Carlisle, is a volunteer for the EMMU (Emergency Mobile Medical Unit) rescue team who attend many sporting events throughout the year, including several car rallies.

They have recently returned from providing vital rescue cover for the Rally Isle of Man, a round of the British Rally Championship. Rachel kept a diary during the event to give an insight into rallying from a rescue crews point of view,

Thursday 9th July: The start of the trip! It was with excitement at going away that I left an unusually sunny Carlisle to head to Morecambe to meet with the rescue unit. I’ve been a member for four years and I thoroughly enjoy it. I was quite shocked to discover that people don’t realise the crew of a rescue unit are volunteers. The unit receives an attendance fee but the crew do not receive anything and it often costs us to attend events! As I also compete as a co-driver being able to give something back to the sport I love is enough of a reward for me though.

The volunteers come from all kinds of background, I work in operating theatre anaesthetics but there are also nurses, firemen, joiners and engineers on the units. We all must attend regular training and hold at the very least a basic life support qualification along with being able to use and manage the hydraulic tools used in vehicle extrication.

There are three levels of rescue unit personnel, trainee, fully licensed and crew chief. To become a fully licensed member of the team a trainee must attend a set number of training weekends and then pass a very thorough assessment which ensures they are capable of using the hydraulic tools and looking after the medical needs of a patient under the supervision of a doctor or paramedic. I passed my assessment on the Rally Isle of Man in 2008 and was a very happy lady! The 2009 event was to be the first anniversary of me qualifying.

We were sailing from Heysham to Douglas and boarded the boat after collecting the ambulance from its Morecambe home. Once aboard the journey passed fairly quickly as all the rescue unit crew on the boat congregated on the top deck for a chat. On arrival on the island it was straight to the TT Grandstand for us to get radios fitted and then on to the medical briefing where we discover which stages we will cover and other safety information.

As our allocated stage on Friday was to begin at midday we retired to the Queens pub on the promenade to meet up with other medical personnel, catch up on all the gossip and talk about the event - we all decided that we preferred the three-day format with some evening stages on Thursday night so please can we have that again next year!

Friday 10th July: Friday morning dawned and after a hearty breakfast both crews of the EMMU team headed into Douglas for a quick look around and to spend some money. After that myself and the other two members of EMMU 2 made our way over to the start of the Newtown stage to cover the first eight or so miles.

As the stage was the longest of the event at 21 miles it required three units spaced at regular intervals. The longest stage one unit can cover is nine miles, any longer and you need a midpoint, or in this case two midpoints!

When we arrived at the start we had a look at the safety plan and identified any short cuts to further parts of the stage plus any potentially tricky areas. We then had a quick look at the tools and ensured they were working and showed our trainee for the weekend, Nigel, what we would require should the worst happen. We than had a quick meeting about who would perform what role in the event of an incident and had a quick procedural run down. Our rationale being that if we do that, we won’t need it!

The cars arrived bang on time and came into the control. Our crew chief then decided it was time to unleash the team mascot, Emu! Emu was happily providing start line entertainment, with the likes of Mark Higgins trying to grab him and take him through the stage. Then came a call to stop the stage and we went immediately went into standby mode but it was quickly declared that the crew were out and ok although the car was blocking the road. As more and more International crews arrived it was decided to send them through non-competitively and re-route them to the next stage. The Challenge and Historic rally competitors all got a run through and luckily had no problems.

We were then sent in behind the course car to sweep the stage and ensure there were no recoveries that required medical cover. Once we knew no medical assistance was required we completed the stage with Emu flying alongside the ambulance enjoying the ride, much to the enjoyment of the spectators!

From there we headed to Castletown for the start of our next stage, via the fish and chip shop of course. Castletown saw a few incidents, including a house being struck by a Citröen C2 and a head on crash into a wall which saw us having to accompany the co-driver to a local hospital. Fortunately he was later discharged. After a very long day we headed back to the hotel at 1am and straight to bed.

Saturday 11th July: Another hearty breakfast kicked off Saturday before we headed back to the Newtown stage. This time we were covering the last few miles of the stage so we were able to see the cars competitively for the first time in the event. The day started dry and mild but as soon as the International competitors started to come past our point the heavens opened and the road was immediately drenched. It was fantastic to see the crews trying hard, even though they were possibly on the wrong tyres for the conditions, they were a joy to watch. The heat from earlier in the day made the roads steam and with the mist that was forming it made visibility difficult. Luckily no one hit the tightened corner where we were stationed.

We were waiting for the Trophy rally to come through when we realised there wasn’t enough road-closed time left. A radio message came across that they had been re-routed due to the volume of cars off in the stage prior to our location. We waited for the roads-open car to pass us and slotted in behind them to make a quick sweep of the stage. We then made our way back to Douglas to return the radio and other equipment and found out that Mark Higgins had won which was good news - it must have been Emu’s touch that did it as Mark won the Jim Clark rally as well which was Emu’s first proper outing and he attacked many competitors there, including Mark - there could be something in that!

With a ferry to catch there was no time to hang around unfortunately so we made our way to the port, via an Italian. We slept most of the way home before eventually docking at midnight. The success of a rally for us is judged on how many emergencies we have to attend so, with no emergencies in the two days, it was a pretty successful event!

Sunday 12th July: No rest for the wicked! Despite the late return from the Isle of Man there was no rest for EMMU on Sunday as the unit was covering the Greystoke Stages rally in Cumbria.

As I was competing on the event myself I had a break from rescuing. The event was another good one from a rescue point of view with no major incidents, although a broken gearbox meant that the event was not so good from my own point of view!

So, after a very busy but very rewarding four days I returned to Carlisle.

For anyone interested in joining a rescue unit there is a training weekend in January at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary in Lancaster, most British rescue units are in attendance and you can identify units close to you. There is a theory day with speakers from the motorsport industry along with medical workstations in the afternoon to teach basic medical skills. The second day of the weekend involves practical demonstrations with participants given the opportunity to handle the hydraulic tools and take part in learning scenarios. For more information on the training weekend or the EMMU unit please contact or visit the unit’s website