Former leader of Britain's busiest rescue team fought for better tools, training. I wrote this after learning of his passing.
The news was a little like hearing that Scafell no longer had its pike or that the Napes no longer had the Needle. Stewart Hulse, founder of the Langdale/Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team had passed away at 78.
Anyone who has ever set foot on a mountain in Britain, and further afield owes him a few moments of their time as Hulse pushed through major changes to what was a pretty roughshod and improvised set of small mountain rescue teams, who often recruited in passing pubs on their way to an accident.
After Hulse, rescue teams were professional in treatment, equipment and experience, but retained the old spirit of climber helping climber.
He did this with a mixture of personality, persuasion, listening, compassion, and if all that failed, then by sheer tenacity. He also had charm, modesty and a considerable ability to laugh at himself.
His victories include re-organising teams to respond to events, bullying BT and Vodaphone into setting up a pager, and then mobile coverage in Cumbria.
Other reforms seem minor, such as making rescuers ‘Coroners Officers,’ But this little thing meant that, if a body had been found, the rescue teams could deal with the situation, rather than having a poor uniformed copper standing on a rainy hillside for hours.
Others, such as pioneering technology, such as a mobile fax in the 90s, that could take print outs from monitors and send to the hospitals where the casualty was likely to be treated. He pushed for paramedic training and by the time he was done, his rescue team, the busiest in Britain was financially sound and had better equipment than an ambulance.
With 42 years of service, Hulse was a practitioner also. He had what was called a great ‘cragside manner’ – the ability to put the often disorientated and injured casualty at ease, although not always as he planned.
With his warm Bury accent, he was attending a young lady of Asian descent who had injured her leg and was in some pain. “Now don’t you worry petal, we’ll soon sort you out petal” he reassured her time after time. “Now petal, take a breath of this, it’ll help you petal,” he said offering some entenox gas for pain relief.
The girl looked amazed and asked, “How do you know my name?” He was awarded an MBE in 2001, which proves that if nothing else, the Duke of Edinburgh is a tolerant man. In trying to persuade the Duke’s outdoor scheme for youths to have proper equipment, including maps, Hulse had some pretty choice words to describe the Queen’s consort.
His biggest battle was over VAT. He wanted teams to be exempted from it, on the grounds that their service was saving the hospitals and police a fortune. He also argued that people didn’t donate to mountain rescue teams – all voluntarily funded in the UK – in order for their money to go to the Treasury.
He was meat by mealy mouthed politicians, far removed from reality as they were from the fells. Told it was impossible because… they might have to consider giving the same exemptions to hospices, drug treatment centres and so on Hulse’s frustration came out in a report, “This reminded us of when we had a meeting with Angela Eagle MP. She compared and aligned mountain rescue to the Cats Defence League, again a worthy cause, but not exactly a like-for-like life saving service in which human life can be at stake.”
That’s what it was about for Hulse, allowing people to enjoy the great outdoors.