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Diary of a 4x4 Responder: Part One - What, Why and How?

Anyone with a 4x4 knows they'll use any excuse to go out in the snow just for fun - it'd be even better to be doing it for a good cause, right?
4x4 Response UK banner showing examples of vehicles

As regular readers will have gathered, I enjoy green laning and exploring the countryside responsibly in 4x4 vehicles. I've been all over the country and had a lot of great adventures, some of them documented on this site. But I started thinking, how could I combine my hobby with doing something to help others?

During the heavy snow at the start of 2022, I realised that I could volunteer with a 4x4 response group and help out during periods of bad weather.

There are a number of regional 4x4 response groups throughout the UK, allowing them to respond quickly to events in their local area. Many of these are affiliated to 4x4 Response UK, which acts as an overall 'umbrella' organisation to support the teams. My local group is Yorkshire 4x4 Response.

I soon learned that it's not all dashing through the snow - in fact, there are many ways that 4x4 response teams help out throughout the year.

You don't even have to have a 4x4 in order to get involved - there are support roles too such as controllers, admins, and fundraisers - everyone is a volunteer and the group is run as a charity so all help is gratefully received, including donations.

If you do own a four-wheel drive vehicle, it doesn't need to be a monster truck - while some situations do favour a highly capable vehicle, others such as patient transport might better suit a more comfortable 4x4 such as a family car or SUV. Many of the volunteering events don't require a four-wheel drive at all.

It's not all work though - there are several social events throughout the year such as green laning trips, scavenger hunts, and barbeques - it's a good way to meet people with similar interests and make new friends.

How Do 4x4 Responders Help?

Yorkshire 4x4 Response assisting with the 2015 floods in York

The first service that 4x4 response groups provide is the most obvious one - to assist category one and two responders in times of bad weather, flooding, and other extraordinary circumstances.

Category one responders are the 'blue light' services - police, fire, ambulance, etc. as well as others such as NHS primary care trusts and the Environment Agency.

There's more info on the categories here if you're interested.

These agencies have prior agreements with the group that allows them to liaise with the control team and request responders as necessary. The lines of communication must be clearly defined before any response is required, to avoid any delays and make sure the process runs smoothly.

Examples of the kind of tasks a responder might perform include ensuring doctors and patients can reach hospitals, taking emergency services personnel to locations that they would otherwise not be able to reach, delivering critical equipment or supplies in adverse conditions, and so on.

All these jobs come into the control team and are allocated to responders depending on their location and capabilities. Nobody will be asked to respond to a situation that they don't feel comfortable with - safety is the priority, for the responders as well as the service users.

Other Volunteering

Radio controlled 4x4 vehicle on the Yorkshire 4x4 Response show stand

The second of the main tasks that 4x4 responders perform is to assist charities and other events where they require volunteers to help out with logistics and other specialist areas - examples being fun runs and marathons, music festivals, sporting events, etc.

This support can range from assisting with road closures to ensure the safety of participants, returning retirees to control points, managing car parking (and helping to retrieve parked cars from muddy festival fields!) and even towing gravity karts up hill climbs, as shown in the Harewood Gravity Games video below:

Even if you don't drive, you can help out by manning the stand at events, training to be a controller, or helping with fundraising, admin and technical services.

What Don't 4x4 Responders Do?

This is a tricky question because there are all kinds of 4x4 response groups and they don't all follow the same rules. For the purposes of this article, I'll stick to groups affiliated with 4x4 Response UK such as the one that I have joined.

Generally speaking, groups do not deal directly with the public - so for example, you can't just call and ask for someone to tow your car out of a ditch in the snow. Even if you're an organisation that genuinely needs help, you should contact the group beforehand and have an agreement in place before requesting support.

The reasons behind this are varied but mostly come down to the fact that with a limited number of volunteers, the controllers need to make sure that the responders are being used in the best way possible. They also need to be personally checked to keep clients safe, and insured properly for the tasks they're performing.

How Do I Get Involved?

So now you know what the role of a 4x4 responder is all about - it's a brilliant way to volunteer to help others and enjoy using your vehicle at the same time. 4x4 drivers often get tarnished with a bad reputation due to the actions of a small minority, so volunteering helps to show the hobby in a better light.

Response groups often have regular training sessions on subjects such as first-aid, recovery, navigation, and off-road driving - so as well as helping out, you get the chance to improve your own skillset.

Yorkshire 4x4 Response Training Day 2021

It's impossible to say how much time you would need to put in as a volunteer, as that depends on you - but realistically it'd be good if you can manage to help out on a few weekends per year at charity events, and for as many incidents as you're comfortable with - this might be none at first, that's fine too.

Many groups will have monthly meetings, and ideally, you should be able to attend most of those - they're generally one evening in the week - that way you make sure you're up to speed and have the required training and documentation checks complete so you can be ready to respond if needed. Some people can't always make it due to family or work - don't worry, it's not compulsory and groups are very understanding.

If you're still not sure about joining, ask a member liaison officer if you can pop along to a meeting and see if you enjoy it - I'm sure it'll be fine and you will get to speak to the members themselves about their experiences. There's a varied bunch of people involved, it's certainly not all macho men in big trucks!

If you're ready to get involved, visit this page to find details of your local group and how to join. Or get in touch with me directly if you have any questions and I'll try to assist if I can.

If you think that your organisation could benefit from an agreement with a 4x4 response group, please click here to find out how to get started.

In the second part of this series, I will share my experiences of joining the Yorkshire 4x4 Response group and what you can expect as a new member - please subscribe to be updated on new posts as soon as they're published.