VOLUNTEERING in the community can be exciting and entertaining and it’s almost always rewarding. For Neil Balderson though, it’s literally a matter of life and death.
Neil, a Senior Engineer at NTCE, is chairman of Northamptonshire Search and Rescue – one of 36 teams of dedicated and expert volunteers run by Lowland Rescue across the UK.
It’s a role that sees Neil spend up to 15 hours a week on the vital administration tasks that keep the group functioning effectively.
But he’s no desk jockey. He’s very much an active member of the search and rescue team – a trained search technician and advanced first aider on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
It’s a demanding role.
No-one knows when the next emergency call will come or what drama will unfold next so downtime is often spent on exercise, sharpening skills and practising new techniques.
But when the call comes, the group is ready to swing into action at a moment’s notice. It can be called into action anywhere in Northamptonshire, in both urban and rural areas, and the situations encountered can be varied and challenging.
Neil, 35, who has been with the voluntary group for around four years, explained: “Our primary role is essentially the same as Mountain Rescue but obviously there aren’t many mountains in Northamptonshire. Whereas they tend to look for people who have got lost and want help, we are typically looking for people who’ve got lost and don’t realise. This could be dementia patients or children or people who don’t want to be found.”
He continued: “There are between 1,200 and 1,500 missing people in Northamptonshire each year. We’re not involved in each one but, when we are, our searches can take place for 8-10 hours a day and can continue across multiple days.
“Between that and the training it takes up a lot of time but when it’s something you love doing, that doesn’t really matter.”
During his time with the organisation, Neil has been involved with many incidents but one comes to mind above all others. The team was called in to assist the search for an elderly and vulnerable dementia patient who had been missing overnight. Within hours of receiving the call out, and after enacting their search protocols, the team located the lady safe and well, but confused and cold, in Northampton town centre. Their efforts earned them a Chief Constable’s Certificate of Appreciation.
He added: “I’ve always enjoyed volunteering and I wanted to do something beneficial. I originally wanted to be a community first responder but the ambulance service said there were none in my area. Then stumbled across mountain rescue but we don’t have many mountains around here. I then happened across Lowland Rescue, discovered there was a new team forming in our area, got in touch and I’ve loved it ever since.”
It’s this dedication to his cause and the community spirit it demonstrates that saw Neil nominated by a colleague to carry the Olympic Torch on its journey to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
He has been chosen as one of the ‘Nissan Nine’ and will carry the Olympic flame for approximately 200 metres through the city of Belo Horizonte – the City of Beautiful Horizons – as part of its 95-day, 36,000km journey that will be seen by an estimated 90 percent of Brazil’s population.
He will be cheered on by wife Gemma who will accompany him on the unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime trip.
An excited Neil said: “This is an absolutely amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to be part of such an incredible spectacle.
“It’s a bit like a dream come true. Gemma and I have always wanted to visit Brazil and see the sights but because of work or volunteering, it’s never been a possibility.
“Now we’re going!”
Meet another member of the Nissan Nine on Nissan Insider next week.