What it's like volunteering for Kent Search and Rescue
PUBLISHED: 14:45 30 August 2019
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Giovanna Richards on the satisfaction she finds in volunteering for the charity Kent Search and Rescue
Name: Giovanna Richards
Job title: Search operations manager
Tell us about you
I live in Maidstone with my partner, my German Shepherd dog Nala and my white-faced scops owl Zippy. I am the Core Skills Trainer at Darenth Valley Hospital and Queen Mary's Hospital and I teach a variety of subjects to clinical and non-clinical staff. I'm also an open-water swim coach, I run a Masters swim squad and coach triathletes and Channel swimmers both in the pool and in open water. I've always been an outdoor person and I love hiking in the Lake District and doing a bit of rock and ice climbing too. I have climbed in the Himalayas and done a few marathon swims, including a solo of Lake Windermere and Coniston Water. I don't often relax, but when I do, I walk for hours with Nala and when the sun is out, I go swimming and paddle boarding at a local lake.
Tell us about KSAR
Kent Search and Rescue (KSAR) is a charitable organisation dedicated to assisting the emergency services in the search for and rescue of vulnerable missing persons. A member unit of the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue, we currently have around 115 members, all volunteers, who make themselves available 365 days a year to help find members of the public who go missing and are considered to be at high risk by the police. Most of our missing persons are despondent, suicidal, suffering from dementia, PTSD or have autism and we will mobilise to any part of Kent to search for them. Highly trained search technicians will deploy in teams of four to search designated areas on foot, both urban and rural. They might be assisted by our mountain bike teams, who can search difficult terrain, roads and paths faster than the foot teams.
We also have a drone unit, who will fly drones over areas that the foot team can't go, or search a large open area quickly and effectively. If the search involves a body of water, specially trained technicians will scour the banks of rivers and lakes, while our kayak and boat team can look for people in the water and effect a body recovery if required. We also have flood trained technicians. KSAR works alongside the National Search and Rescue Dog Association, a separate charity run by volunteers whose operational members must be part of KSAR and have completed the KSAR search technician course and NSARDA's dog support and handler training.
Why did you want to volunteer?
I heard about KSAR from a friend who was already a trained search technician. I liked the idea of working in a team to find missing people in my community and returning them back to their families. I joined KSAR last May as I'd cut my work in the NHS down to three days a week and had a bit more time to dedicate to the charity. I soon learnt that search and rescue is not a hobby; it's a vocation and the team members quickly become a second family. You spend hours in all weathers and in sometimes difficult circumstances with the team, so you quickly bond. Most of our calls are very late at night, or in the early hours of the morning and many of our searches are through dense and difficult terrain. You have to be physically fit and completely dedicated to search thick woodland in the pouring rain at 2am! Four months after finishing my training I was selected to train as a search operations manager and now help run and coordinate searches with the police search advisor, the KSAR search manager and the search planner.
Marks out of 10?
It's impossible to describe the feeling of finding a missing person alive who has been gone for six hours in the cold and dark. To get a call in the ICV that one of your teams has found a frail dementia patient alive, curled up in a ditch, hypothermic and injured, is wonderful. That gentleman was evacuated by our teams and taken to hospital, where he made a good recovery. To go home knowing that you played a small part in saving someone's life is humbling.
How can kent life readers help?
KSAR is dependent entirely on donations and every member is a volunteer. Donations go towards buying and improving our life saving equipment and towards crucial training of our members. There is more information about donating and becoming a volunteer at: www.ksar.co.uk