The South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team and the South Wales Cave Rescue Organisation.
A Short History
The SMWCRT began life as the South Wales Cave Rescue Organisation shortly after the South Wales Caving Club was formed in 1946. For many years the SWCC was the only club in the area and provided the equipment and the personnel for cave rescue.
In the sixties the Gwent team was formed as new discoveries were made in the Northern outcrop. The Gwent team was based upon clubs active in the Llangattock area. There was little formal relationship between the teams and indeed there appeared to be some insularity. In 1971 tentative moves were made with a view to rationalising the situation. No substantial moves took place until a major incident in Agen Allwedd in 1974 forced the issue and led directly to the formation of the SWCRO as an umbrella organisation.
Although the separate nature of the teams had no effect upon the outcome of that particular incident it was realised that the lack of equipment compatibility and mutual ignorance of the other team's abilities would be disastrous in an incident bigger than either team could handle alone. Several meetings took place leading to the formation in 1975 of the SWCRO.
The title SWCRO was relinquished by the SWCC team and became the title of the new organisation. This team was expanded to include clubs active in the southern outcrop and constituted as the West Brecon Cave Rescue Team.
What is now the SMWCRT is based at the headquarters of the SWCC, with its own stores of equipment and leasing the rescue garage and upper store rooms. The Gwent Team formalised an arrangement with the Chelsea Speleological Society's club hut at Llangattock.
The justification for the formation of the SWCRO was born out in 1980 when the WBCRT and Gwent teams combined in the rescue of Tim Flanagan from Agen Allwedd. The 3 day incident involved some 280 underground rescuers and was clearly beyond a single team's capability.
The SWCRO was constituted as an executive body with equal representation from each team. Membership is restricted to cave rescue teams and the function of the SWCRO was to act as liaison between the two operational teams, to co-ordinate equipment awareness and where possible compatibility, to maintain mutual callout details and to be representative of cave rescue in South Wales to the British Cave Rescue Council and all outside bodies. Essential to the organisation was that each operational team would be responsible for its own structure and training. The line of responsibility was drawn along the A470, as an administrative rather than actual boundary. In 1989, SWCRO applied for charity status which was granted in 1991.
A second reconstitution of the WBCRT took place 1991. The WBCRT was still seen as an extension of the SWCC, despite its inclusion of other clubs on the executive and its active role in encouraging new clubs to become part of the team. As a result the WBCRT formally separated from the SWCC. All of the equipment, much of which had been purchased by the SWCC, was transferred to ownership of the WBCRT. A formal agreement was signed regarding the continued use of the rescue stores and garage at Penwyllt. The SWCC rescue officer would no longer be automatically the Hon. Sec. of the WBCRT.
The constitution was modified to give all member clubs the same status and to allow non club cavers representation on the WBCRT executive.
Although now formally separated from the WBCRT it must be recognised that the SWCC is still 100% committed to supporting cave rescue. The benefits gained by such support to rescue cannot be overstated. The SWCC is the biggest club in the area, although is does not supply a proportionally large supply of the rescued, and its local membership, (of active members), is growing. It follows that the majority of those on the first call lists will be members of the SWCC and we must actively work to encourage continued support.
In 1998, WBCRT completed work on a new Advanced First Aid course for Cave Rescue which was accredited by British Red Cross and the British Cave Rescue Council. This course is now delivered twice a year for the WBCRT and GCRT and has become a National Standard for Cave Rescue Advanced First Aid in the UK.
In January 2002, WBCRT completed a six month renovation and improvement programme with the aid of Sportlot and Powys County Council to:
- Completely refurbish the Headquarters at Penwyllt
- Purchase a new fully equipped and modified Landrover Ambulance
- Replace old and obsolete equipment with new and more appropriate equipment
In 2003, SWCRO was dissolved to simplify the National Structure and WBCRT and GCRT became members of the BCRC in their own right. Laison arrangements were put in place constitutionally to ensure the 2 teams remain in close contact.
In 2009, the GCRT was dissolved. Responsibility for the Gwent caving areas, along with ownership of the Whitewalls stores and equipment, was transferred to WBCRT. Realising that the title West Brecon was no longer relevant to the massive area now covered, the Team voted in the 2010 AGM to change the name to the South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team.
In 1990 there was growing concern that the cover for mid Wales was non existent and that caving activity, both sport and commercial, was increasing. A previous attempt to form a mid Wales team, under the SWCRO umbrella had failed. The situation was discussed and it was decided that the WBCRT should investigate the problems involved. A meeting was arranged in, May 1991, between as many known bodies as possible. The result was that:
- The SWCRO should be responsible for cave and abandoned mine rescue to the Gwynedd/Clwyd borders.
- The responsibility for the extended area should lie with the WBCRT via mid Wales Wardens.
The SWCRO was dissolved in 2003, leaving WBCRT and now SMWCRT with sole responsibility for the mines of Mid Wales. The team maintains a store of specialist Mines Rescue equipment in the Mid Wales area and, although the team has yet to be involved in a major rescue there, a number of practice and training events have taken place in the mines. The team has also been involved in successful animal rescues from mine shafts as far west as Aberystwyth.
The National Scene
The British Cave Rescue Council was first formed in the early sixties after the Neil Moss incident in 1959, but, after initial enthusiasm, became a very un-representative body. A meeting was called, in 1980, to decide upon the fate of the BCRC. On the table was the choice of dissolving the body and each cave rescue organisation subsequently representing itself to all, or the reformation of a genuinely representative body to speak with one, agreed voice. The latter course was taken and the BCRC is now a internationally recognised and respected body. The SWCRO has taken an active role within the BCRC since it was reformed.
The police authority map was divided into areas of responsibility so that all of the U.K. was covered by a cave rescue organisation. At present there are 14 council member organisations or teams. Membership is open to all bona fide cave/abandoned mine rescue teams or organisations. A distinction is made between teams that are a member of an organisation, for example the WBCRT's membership of the SWCRO, and 'teams' that in fact represent an area. Where a team seeks membership, but its area of operation is already covered by an existing member, the applicant is encouraged to join or co-operate with the existing member and gain recognition in that way.
Applicants need to be recognised by their local police authority and sponsored by an existing council member. The Association of Chief Police Officers has undertaken to recognise only cave rescue organisations that are members of the BCRC and actively supports the BCRC in dealings with other bodies. An ACPO representative is present at all BCRC meetings.
The BCRC is a affiliate member of the Mountain Rescue Council, and takes steps to ensure that cave rescue is represented in its own right as a national body.
A fundamental feature of the BCRC is that each cave rescue organisation is responsible for all aspects of cave rescue on its own patch. The BCRC is simply an executive body to represent agreed policies nationally and internationally, to disseminate information and assist member organisations in any way possible. Call-out statistics are collated nationally and every two years one of the larger cave rescue organisations hosts the BCRC cave rescue conference.
The ACPO has been instrumental in co-ordinating the insurance cover provided by local police authorities under which both cave and mountain rescues are covered. Affiliation to the Mountain Rescue Council provides third party liability insurance to cave rescuers.