From its earliest days St John has provided the Channel Island of Guernsey with a cliff rescue team.
St John volunteers that form the team, some of which are paramedics and emergency medical technicians, are trained in cliff rescue techniques and casualty evacuation using recognised climbing and mountaineering equipment and skills.
St John aims to provide a ‘seamless’ care pathway in cases where a casualty is injured on the cliffs of Guernsey, ensuring that at least one member of the cliff rescue team is either an Emergency Medical Technicians or Paramedic. This means that in critical cases the first cliff rescue team responder abseiling to the casualty can render medical treatment and continue that care until they hand over the patient to Accident and Emergency staff in Guernsey’s General Hospital.
The members of the St John Cliff Rescue Team undertake training in the special techniques and equipment needed to perform the potentially dangerous task of rescuing people and animals from the cliff faces or sheer rock walls of Guernsey’s water-filled quarries.
Team members attend training courses in the Peak District and Snowdonia, the more experienced, senior members instructing the newer recruits on their return to the Island. On a regular basis instructors from the Mountain Rescue Centre at Plas y Brenin in Wales, visit Guernsey to conduct short intensive courses with St John Cliff Rescue Team members.
In 1999 an indoor climbing wall was built at St John Headquarters to enable difficult techniques to be practiced in safety and in all weathers before being performed on Guernsey’s south coast cliffs.
The wall has a vertical face, a sloping face and an area of free hanging to simulate over-hanging cliff edges. Unlike normal recreational climbing walls it includes a top platform to enable member to practice rescue rope work and stretcher winching.
Ropes: 11mm or 12 mm super polyester braid line
Hardware: Pitons, Karabiners, Ascenders, Descenders and other items used as necessary
Stretcher: Troll Alphin (mild steel frame & polypropylene bed)
Winch: Tirfor, Evak 500. Used in conjunction with Gri Gri ascenders, pulley systems and shunts.
Harness: Troll sit harness. RAT (Rescue and Access Technician) harness.
As with all St John Rescue Service’s, the cliff team does not receive government funding, but relies on donations from the public for its survival. Training sessions are expensive to run and equipment must be of the highest standard, but no charge is made for genuine rescues undertaken by the team.
Throughout the occupation of Guernsey during the Second World War, St John were tasked with rescuing soldiers or others on the mine-covered cliffs of the Island. This continued during the post war years, using what are now very basic techniques with canvas protectors, hemp rope and sheer manpower to heave casualties up the cliff face.
In 1973, a review of the provisions within St John led to the re-establishment of the team on a more structured basis. New techniques and equipment were introduced, training was improved and selected team members attended courses at the Plas y Brenin Mountain Rescue Centre in North Wales.
As techniques improved further courses were arranged and methods are now constantly reviewed in the light of current practice and developments in equipment, and training.