Two brave and compassionate 75-year-olds who have been on up to 2,000 emergency callouts have been honoured as Teesside Heroes by Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.
Dave Cook and Gari Finch have clocked up an astounding 100 years as volunteers with Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team between them.
Both were 25 when they joined the selfless team, juggling careers as a police officer (Dave) and teacher of geology and geography (Gari) with their heroic work with the service and family life.
But despite their advancing years, the pair are in no hurry to hang up their hiking boots, with both vowing to stay in the team for as long as they are “still useful”.
In fact, during a recent rescue of a lady who had broken her leg on the moors, both were at the forefront of the drama when they drove out teams to find her.
Gari, who has an MBE for services to the mountain rescue team, said: “Last Sunday, I drove one of the Land Rovers on blues and twos and the other Land Rover was being driven by Dave!”
He added: “I guess the reason I joined was to help others.
“I was a keen rock climber and walker years ago – and still am – and I suppose I would have liked to think that if I had an accident, someone would come to my aid.
“If at my advanced age I am still useful, I will stay in the team.”
Dave added: “We are both quite chuffed to be able to say we have clocked up 50 years each with the team.
“I enjoy finding people and rescuing people – it’s rather a great feeling.
“To think someone is in distress, lost or injured, and along come a group of people who sort out their injuries and get them home safely is very self-satisfying, very rewarding.”
Dave explained that when he joined in 1970, not all the members had a phone. So whenever they got one of up to 20 calls a year, those with phones had to call around the houses of those who didn’t have one to round up the team.
Fast forward to 2020 and the team is deployed to about 60 search and rescue attempts a year – and has annual running costs of £30,000 to £40,000 per year.
“The team started in 1965 and when I joined, we had two or three radios, at best, that were big, bulky things and we used our own vehicles,” said Dave. “A couple of our members had Land Rovers.
“Back then it was mainly searches that we did, not rescues; and not many of us had telephones.
“Now we can send messages to each other instantly and even be on a call all at the same time.”
Gari and Dave were both humbled to receive their awards, which include a trophy each and £1,000, which will go towards the Cleveland Mountain Rescue team’s running costs.
The presentation was made by James Dale from Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation patrons Anderson Barrowcliff Chartered Accountants.
“Getting the award was fantastic,” said Gari. “It’s a lovely little trophy – I’m very pleased with it.”
The grandad of five said: “My family were quite appreciative, saying it was nice to see me getting recognition for my years of service.
“I may have to retire from the team at some point but I’m pleased to have managed 50 years as it’s fairly rare to see someone who has put in 50 years and is still fit enough to do the job.
“As far as I’m concerned, as long as I’m fit enough to help and be of use, I will continue to do it.”
The £1,000 has also been gratefully received by the rescue team.
Like many charities, the service has been hit hard by Covid 19 this year, with many of their usual fundraising events cancelled; and less money going in collection boxes placed in pubs and businesses around the area than usual.
Dave, who services the collection boxes, which have raised more than £40,000 since 1990, said: “It’s been difficult this year to do the collections and think about having to quarantine the money.
“Income from the collection boxes has about halved this year but we are still running the vehicles and getting as many callouts as we usually do and costs like those of insurance and replacing equipment remain the same.
“We are a very useful emergency service that doesn’t just go to look for lost and injured people, but also assists with things like supporting the ambulance service when the Beast from the East struck and they couldn’t get up some roads in East Cleveland villages.”
Mike Gallagher, deputy team leader at Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team, said: “Cleveland Mountain Rescue are very proud of Gari and Dave’s achievements and recognise their 50 years of voluntary service to mountain rescue.
“Nationally, Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) will be awarding them their 50 years long service award.”
Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team takes donations through its website at www.clevelandmrt.org.uk.