Panel discussion: Challenges and modern trends in mountain rescue in Europe

On the panel discussion held in Ohrid last week, for the first time in front of the senior state institution representatives, the topic of mountain rescue was discussed. Also, attendees discussed the implementation of international standards and the need for an institutional systematic solution for this issue in the country and cross-border region as a precondition for the development of adventure tourism and the safety of citizens.

Besides the Minister of Defense of RNM, Mrs. Slavjanka Petrovska, the director of the Crisis Management Center Mr. Stojance Angelov, and the mayors of Ohrid, Mr. Kiril Pecakov and the municipality of Gramsh, R. Albania, Mr. Klodian Tace, the panel was also attended by senior representatives of the Ministries of Interior and Defense, air forces, special police, and military units, the Civil Aviation Agency, the Directorate for Protection and Rescue, fire brigades, and a number of voluntary associations.

The attendees had a rare opportunity to get acquainted in detail with the mountain rescue system in the Republic of Croatia, directly from the head of CMRS, Mr. Josip Granic, who presented the “secret of success” of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, one of the best Services in Europe at this moment. Through examples and concrete figures, he presented the importance and role of the CMRS, as a basic operational force in the civil protection system in Croatia, which with its 1200 highly trained and equipped volunteers, deployed in 25 stations across the country, 24 hours, 7 days a week, takes care of the safety of citizens and numerous tourists.

Also, Mr. Granic emphasized the importance of the special law on CMRS, which fully regulates the role, rights, and duties of the members, but also financing and cooperation with other state institutions. He especially emphasized the voluntary organization of the Service, which is applied in 95% of the European countries and is characterized by high efficiency, economy, and mobility, especially in cases that last longer and require the involvement of a large number of people. He cited the latest case of a plane crash in Croatia, with more than 250 members of the CMRS involved in the search for this sports aircraft for two days in complex mountainous terrain and poor visibility. Mr. Granic also stressed the importance of strict adherence to international standards and recommendations of ICAR (International Commission for Alpine Rescue), without the implementation of which it is impossible to organize a modern service.

Mr. Kostantin Ciriviri, a renowned domestic expert in the field of mountaineering, mountain tourism, and mountain rescue, presented the basic elements of the study for the organization of the Ohrid Red Cross Mountain Rescue Service, prepared in 2019, as well as the significant results achieved in the last 3 years of the operation of the MRS in the cross-border region. The MRS as the only such Service at the moment provides service for the citizens and visitors to the region, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in accordance with European standards and recommendations of IKAR. This is an excellent example of efficient organization and regulation, which can be easily applied in other regions. However, the problem with financial sustainability remains unresolved, although the study made detailed forecasts and proposals for creating an economical annual budget, which predicts the involvement of municipalities in the region with minimum budget funds in the amount of 0.26% to 0.6% from their annual budgets (depending on the municipality).  Unfortunately, the municipalities so far have not expressed readiness to provide these funds.

The MRS example indicates that the lack of an appropriate legal solution is a serious obstacle to creating an effective state system of mountain rescue, following the example of Croatia, which discourages volunteers, and instead of constant growth, results in a loss of enthusiasm and desire to give maximum to the community. Mr. Ciriviri emphasized that the assessments from the study, as well as the three-year analysis of the operation of MRS Ohrid, are an excellent base for the organizational charts and the model of action of the National Mountain Rescue Association, which in future, through an appropriate legal solution and in cooperation with other state institutions, will be able to effectively organize a state operational structure, ready to operate in all regions of the country, but also across borders, in neighboring Albania, if necessary.

The Minister of Defense, Ms. Slavjanka Petrovska, informed the participants of the panel on the civil protection reform process, which has already begun and the new concept should be presented by September. She expressed readiness to open the issue of legal regulation of the mountain rescue, following the example of Croatia, which will certainly be an integral part of the new civil protection system in the country.

The panel discussion was organized within the project “New Opportunities for Safe Winter Adventures”, funded by the EU, IPA program for cross-border cooperation with Albania and the Ministry of Local Self-Government of RNM, and was hosted by the Ohrid Red Cross Mountain Rescue Service, the National Union for Mountain Rescue and Alpine Club Patagonia Ohrid.

Promotion of the New Specialized Equipment and Vehicles for Winter Rescue Operations (Video and Photo)

New specialized equipment and vehicles for rescue in winter conditions, intended for the Mountain Rescue Service, Alpine Club PATAGONIA, and for the local teams from Debrca and Gramsh Municipalities, were promoted today at Ohrid Riviera. This equipment was procured with European Union funds, through the IPA2 Cross-border Programme between the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Albania, within the project “New opportunities for safe winter adventures”, implemented by Ohrid Red Cross.

With the procurement of these vehicles and equipment, the Mountain Rescue Service completes the process of equipping for effective operation in all seasons and meteorological conditions, and by equipping the local teams in the Municipalities of Debrca and Gramsci, significantly expands the territorial scope and efficiency of rescue operations in the future.

The President of the Red Cross Ohrid, Mr. Sasho Tockov, the Minister of Local Self-Government of RNM Mr. Goran Milevski, and the EU Ambassador to RNM, H.E. David Geer addressed the present guests, expressing satisfaction with the success of the projects that established this regional Mountain Rescue Service in accordance with the highest international standards, and stressed the importance of active involvement of local governments in its future sustainability.

After the official part, members of the Mountain Rescue Service presented the new vehicles and equipment to the guests. Also, the senior officials of the Crisis Management Center, Directorate for Protection and Rescue, Special Task Force, Helicopter Unit of the Ministry of Interior and Air Force, visited the operational and training center of the Mountain Rescue Service and discussed the deepening of cooperation, in order to increase the effectiveness of rescue operations in the future, not only in the Ohrid region but also beyond.

On this occasion, we would like to express our special gratitude to the Delegation of the European Union to the RSM and the Ministry of Local Self-Government, not only for the financial support but also for the active involvement in the process of integration of the Mountain Rescue Service in the national risk management system, as well as for quick and effective operation across borders.

Promotion of the new project that will be implemented by the MRS and the partners from the region

On February 12, 2020, on the border crossing Saint Naum a promotion of the project “New Opportunities for Safe Winter Adventure Tourism” was held. This project is funded by the European Union, through the Cross-border Cooperation Program with the Republic of Albania. Partners of this project, in addition to the Ohrid Red Cross MRS, are also the Alpine Club Patagonija Ohrid, Debrca municipality and the municipality of Gramsh, Albania. The main goal of the Project is to further promote the socio-economic development of the wider Ohrid-Prespa cross border region through sustainable tourism development and promotion of high safety standards in tourism. For the Mountain Rescue Service, this project will provide complete equipment for the safe operation of rescuers in winter conditions, as well as special off-road vehicles equipped with caterpillars and trailers for the transport of injured people in snowy conditions. This equipment will significantly improve the capacity of the Service as well as its efficiency in the winter.
At the ceremony, the Ohrid Red Cross Mountain Rescue Service and the National Coordination Center for Border Management signed a Memorandum for cooperation, aimed at coordinating the operation of the rescue service team so that they can cross the border as quickly as possible and intervene to rescue as soon as possible on the Albanian territory. This memorandum is the first step in the process of creating a special protocol, which will in the future enable the Mountain Rescue Service, with all its equipment, vehicles and rescuers, to cross the border at official border crossings or so-called green crossings without interruption, but also by helicopter if necessary for the effectiveness of the action. This means a systematic improvement of the security conditions in tourism, as well as greater security of the population of the cross-border region.
Mr. Sasho Tockov, President of the Ohrid Red Cross noted that the establishment of a system for efficient operation of the Mountain Rescue Service and the launch of the new project will complete the long-standing commitment to the security system and conditions for all tourists, lovers of the mountain, as well as for the mountain lovers and all residents of this region.
Mr. Nicola Bertolini from the EU Delegation for Cooperation and Development, for his part, pointed out that the European Union has always recognized and will support in the future all projects promoting cross-border cooperation as one of the most important priorities under EU support programs.

The Minister of Local Self-Government, Mr. Goran Milevski, the Director of the Customs Administration, Mr. Gjoko Tanasoski, as well as the mayors of the municipalities of Debrca and Gramsh, Mr. Zoran Nogacevski and Mr. Klodian Taçe, expressed their satisfaction for such successful projects, which affect not only the economic development of the region but also contribute to the promotion of tourism potentials of the municipalities.

Following the promotion, an initial workshop was organized at the St. Naum Hotel, with representatives of relevant institutions from both countries.

 

Mountain Safety Day

The Red Cross celebrates January 15 as a “Mountain Safety Day”. On this occasion, the Red Cross Ohrid Mountain Rescue Service used yesterday’s day to perform duties and fitness training, with the aim of installing a new radio communication transmitter, which will significantly improve the capacity of the Service. It is a radio transmitter, which will enable the Service a smooth communication within a radius of at least 50 km, and which will cover most of the territory on which the Mountain Rescue Service operates. The radio transmitter was purchased under the project “Lake Ohrid Region – Safe Destination for Adventure Tourism”, funded by the European Union, through the IPA Cross-Border Cooperation Program with Albania.

On this occasion, the Red Cross Mountain Rescue Service welcomes all colleagues, volunteers, and professionals from the rescue services around the world, with sincere wishes for а successful work, many joint mountain associations, and less rescue operations.

Opening ceremony of the MRS Operational and Training Center

Finally, another significant segment of our two-decade mission to develop the Mountain Rescue Service in the region around Lake Ohrid has finally been realized. Opening ceremony of the operational and training center, the first of its kind in our country and beyond. Many thanks to the European Union and the Ministry of Local Self-Government for the financial support provided through the cross-border cooperation program with Albania. Soon we will be releasing more details and a photo album of the opening ceremony.

P.S. Special thanks to the video to the Digital Box team