Innsbruck’s mountains are generally an amazing and safe place to be but of course, from time to time, accidents do happen. Thankfully, when they do, the Innsbruck Mountain Rescue is there to help.
The Mountain Rescue is a group of men and women who use their advanced mountaineering skills to help people who are injured, stranded or otherwise need help on the mountain. They handle over 150 emergencies every year. However, what is most amazing about the Mountain Rescue is that it is entirely run by volunteers, willing to give their time and energy to help others in need.
We were intrigued, so we sat down with Bruno Berloffa, head of the Innsbruck Mountain Rescue, to find out more.
About half an hour before I was due to meet Bruno, I receive a message on my phone. “We’ve just had an emergency call, can we postpone?” Welcome to the day-to-day life of an Innsbruck mountain rescuer. The city’s team is made up of 60 active volunteers, who are on call 24/7 to help people in distress in the mountains: hikers with twisted ankles, climbers stuck on cliffs, as well as more serious situations such as avalanches. But no matter what the emergency, the Mountain Rescue always finds a way to bring you down from the mountain safely and calmly.
However, that doesn’t mean that every mountain rescuer has to help with every emergency. “We all have lives and jobs and can’t always simply drop everything and head to the mountain,” Bruno explained. “So nowadays, we have an app. When we get an emergency call, every mountain rescuer gets pinged in the app and they respond saying whether they can attend the emergency or not.” Sounds pretty simple. Although this begs the question: what happens if not enough mountain rescuers respond? “If we don’t have enough people after four minutes, then we ping everyone again. If we don’t have enough people after eight minutes, then we contact the teams in the neighbouring towns. But thankfully, mountain rescuers are pretty motivated and so we have never had the situation where we haven’t had enough people to help.”
Being part of the mountain rescue means being prepared for anything and everything the mountain throws at you. That’s why every mountain rescuer has to go through a long training process before they are considered a full member of the team. “Becoming a fully qualified mountain rescuer usually takes two-and-a-half to three years,” Bruno explained. The first year is a trial year. Each new member is assessed by their mountaineering skills, their ability to work in a team and their willingness to learn. “We use this year to get to know the person. Do they get on with other people? Do they fit in the team? Do they have the right expectations about what being in the Mountain Rescue is actually like?”
At the end of the first year, new mountain rescuers have to take a practical exam. Only if they pass this exam are they then allowed to do the full Mountain Rescue training programme. “The training programme consists of three parts: a summer part, a winter part and a medical part. The summer and winter parts each last a week and are led by experienced mountain rescuers at our training centre near Galtür.” The training programme is tough. But if you can successfully pass all three parts, you officially become a fully qualified mountain rescuer.
It's clear from talking to Bruno that being in the Mountain Rescue requires a lot of time, hard work and dedication, without any financial reward. So why do people do it? “Because it gives you plenty of things that money can’t buy. You get top-level mountaineering training. You get to meet a very diverse group of people and be part of a community of like-minded souls. And at the end of the day, you’re doing something good for others.”
“One of my most memorable rescues involved a lady who was badly injured close to the top of the Solstein mountain. It was in the middle of a storm with thunder and lightning, and a big group of us had to go up there to get her and carry her back down on a stretcher. The way up involved lots of difficult terrain, and it was not easy. But when we finally reached the lady, she opened her eyes and said: “Someone’s come, someone’s come to help me.” And suddenly, you remember what all your hard work and training is for.”
Thank you, Bruno, for talking to us!
Support the mountain rescue
Become a supporter of the Mountain Rescue and receive comprehensive rescue insurance in return. This protects you against any costs incurred (for example, for a helicopter) should you need to be rescued from the mountain or water. It costs just €28 a year for the whole family, is valid worldwide and you support the Mountain Rescue service at the same time! For more information, please visit their website.