Philipp Oberladstätter, 36 from Alpbach answered our questions about mountain rescue. He is an independent controller, Vice Mayor of Alpbach and mountain rescuer.
Mogasi: How does one become a mountain rescuer? Is there a certain type of person who wants to do this?
Oberladstätter: Passion for the mountains and mountain sports are basic prerequisites for the job along with idealism and comradeship. Us mountain rescuers are a colourful bunch, but this is what bonds us.
Mogasi: What is the education path? What are the basic prerequisites for becoming a mountain rescuer?
First you have to complete a year as an intern, this will be part of your preparation for the two entry tests. However, certain skills such as climbing and skiing are required before undertaking your first year. Afterwards, a winter, summer and medical course with final examinations is to be completed. It takes at least two years for someone to become a mountain rescuer.
How often is training/does training have to be completed? Where are these courses held?
Every mountain rescuer has to partake in at least six training exercises per year. In addition, the regional management offers further training courses in the Jamtal Training Center. You can imagine the training center as a huge playground for mountain rescuers with an ice climbing tower, gondolas for abseiling exercises, boulder rocks, climbing routes, glacier clearing, LVS searching stations and much more.
What should someone do if they find themselves in an emergency situation on the mountain? When should an emergency call be made? Which emergency number should be called or stored in our phones?
The Austrian Mountain Rescue can be reached by dialing 140 and they should be called as soon as you are unable to help yourself or your friends. In general, you shouldn’t wait too long to call because most emergency situations can be solved more easily in daylight. You should also call if your accidentally trigger an avalanche even if no one is burried because this information can help us especially if we receive an emergency call later. There is also an emergency App from the Tirolean Mountain Rescue that has many practical features; every mountaineer should have this.
“An avalanche is always an enormously stressful situation for a mountain rescuer. The feelings only hit after the rescue mission.” Philipp Oberladstätter
The mountain rescue often come out in the late evening or night and physical stress is often enormous. Are you prepared for this before the first assignment, can you actually prepare for these types of situations?
The training and exercises we do with each other serve as a very good preparation for us. And you must never forget: you are not alone!
Which assignments give you the best feeling?
Before an assignment: if there are no unforeseen difficulties expected.
After an assignment: if unforeseen difficulties were coped with well and we were able to help.
How does it feel as a rescuer when people are burried by an avalanche? Can you only hope that when you uncover the person they are still alive?
An avalanche is always an enormously stressful situation for a mountain rescuer. The feelings only hit after the rescue mission. In the moment our focus is soley on carrying out the learned rescue protocal.
How are the mountain rescuers cared for after a rescue?
Very rarely will we go directly home after a rescue. Normally we will discuss the experience and how it went (over a beer). The conversation with the effected family is very important after a fatal mission. We also have the help of a crisis intervention team at our disposal.
How compatible is volunteer mountain rescuing with a regular professional life? How hard is it to combine this with a permanent position?
This is highly dependent on the employer and the distance to the workplace. Most employers are very considerate. As a self-employed person I have a very understanding boss.
“But be aware of over estimating your abilities: good equipment will not replace a lack of knowledge.” Philipp Oberladstätter
Are there enough your mountain rescuers who want to take on such a responsibility?
In Alpbach there is a lot of interest in mountain rescue and unfortunately we can not accommodate all those interested. On the other hand there are also areas that struggle with interest and would like to have our ‘problems’.
Is is more often tourists or locals who provoke emergency situations.
From feeling it is more tourists.
Are the missions spread evenly thoughout the year?
Alpbach is a ski touring paradise with many missions normally occurring in winter. In classic climbing areas such as The Wilder Kaiser it is quieter in winter. You have to expect that on every beautiful summer day there will be emergency situations.
What should people who are going to the mountains do (in summer and winter)?
You will often hear how important tour planning and proper equipment is. But be aware of over estimating your abilities: good equipment will not replace a lack of knowledge.
Many mountain rescuers risk their lives in action. How are the potential dangers reduced during an operation? When does an operation have to be canceled?
As a mountain rescuer, safety of oneself is one of the first things your learn. In the case of an operation in a dangerous area (rockfall zone and avalanche slopes), guard posts are installed. There is always a mission leader who will cancel an operation should it become too dangerous.
What is the relationship like between the local authorities and other blue-collar organizations in Tirol?
We constantly work together with other blue-collar organizations and neighbouring recuers. This collaboration is trained regularly and functions very well. This doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally butt heads.
What level of standing do mountain rescuers have within the local community and government?
I would say a very high one and this is emphasized on all levels.
A mountain rescuer very rarely works alone, how important is comradeship?
Mountain rescue is a team sport – the solo-fighter loses.
How is the organization or the rescue in general financed?
Rescued are initially funded by organization. This is why I recommend full insurance coverage for all alpinists and mushroom pickers. However, despite having volunteers, our expenses can not be covered. Therefore, the mountain rescue is heavily dependent on private sponsors and public grants.
How can we support the mountain rescue?
You can become a mountain rescue sponsor. The basic package costs just EUR 24 per year and includes protection for your whole family. More about this on Bergrettung.tirol
What equipment does every mountain rescuer need and how much of it is made available to you?
Our equipment is extremely extensively and ranges from the ski-touring equipment including LVS to climbing tools to alpine touring equipment. This so-called man equipment must be purchased personally by every mountain rescuer and costs several thousand euros. Tools such as medical devices, radios, vehicles, etc are provided for us.