Mountain Rescue Ireland has said there has been renewed interest in its work with search and rescue dogs due to the role played by late Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas.
A tribute has been paid by the organisation in its annual report to Ms Lucas’s role in dog-assisted searches , which records that 12 voluntary teams participated in 405 call-outs in over 300 separate incidents last year.
Ms Lucas (41), a mother of two and experienced member of the Irish Coast Guard's Doolin unit, died on September 12th 2016 during the search for a missing man off the Clare coast with Kilkee Coast Guard.
She and her dog were trained members of the Search and Rescue Dog Association (Sarda), which is affiliated to the mountain rescue network.
The librarian, who recently received a posthumous Clare person of the year award, was also an experienced climbing instructor and had many associated skills, ranging from first aid to boat coxswain, and from to offshore emergency care to navigation.
Many of the 12 mountain rescue teams, including Mourne Mountain Rescue in Co Down, were also deeply affected by the loss of the four Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 air crew – Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45) and Capt Mark Duffy (51) , Paul Ormsby (53) and Ciarán Smith (38) – who lost their lives in the crash off north Mayo on March 14th.
Mountain rescue volunteers, particularly the Mourne Mountain, Dublin-Wicklow and Glen of Imaal teams, had trained with the air crew, and participated in extensive shore searches on the west coast during the two months before the incident.
The annual report records that the Dublin-Wicklow and Glen of Imaal teams were the busiest last year, with 66 call-outs, while a 37 per cent increase in Mayo Mountain Rescue’s call-outs, totalling 51 last year, related in many cases to accidents on Croagh Patrick.
Mountain Rescue Ireland chairman Alan Carr said that membership of the Search and Rescue Dog Association had increased with more dogs and handlers from the southwest in particular, and an increase in local search dog organisations.
He said that 2016 served as “another demonstration of the commitment of mountain rescue volunteers to those requiring emergency assistance in upland and mountainous areas”.
“However, the challenges of maintaining a 24/7/365 emergency response service in an entirely volunteer capacity remains,”he said.
He acknowledged the support of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs towards insurance costs, but said this remained the “greatest annually recurring challenge facing teams” with “ uncertainty over the availability of funding this need into the future”.
The organisation receives an annual grant of €69,750 and an insurance grant of €66,245 , and its insurance costs last year were €71,760 .
Its income of €157,657 last year included subscriptions from members at over €7,800 and donations at over €8,400 ,and its outgoings amounted to over €212,000.
Other challenges facing the teams relate to vehicle replacement and the development of physical infrastructure to allow the storage, cleaning, inspection and maintenance of equipment, Mr Carr said.
He paid tribute to all “volunteers, family members, financial contributors and other stakeholders who enable us to complete our mission”.