mountain professionals: first aider

In the last magazine Hiking on the Moon by Quechua special Mountain Life , you learnt about professions where you can experience the full joy of the mountains and all they have to offer.  Zoom on Alice Coldefy, police Paramedic with the Chamonix PGHM (High Mountain Military Police Force).

The High Mountain military police group (PGHM) supervise mountainous regions, helping to ensure your safety and the safety of all hikers. Its mission: to ensure safety in high mountain areas. We met Alice, the first woman to serve in this elite unit.

pghm chamonix

Can you tell us what your work entails?
I wear several different hats, the first is my paramedic’s hat – we are all trained to a minimum of PSE2, (Certified First Responder – Level 2), then that of aspirant guide and military policeman. Working with the PGHM involves a clever juggling of these three roles. In my view, they’re inextricably linked. The PGHM extends the remit of the traditional military police in the high mountain areas. Our tasks include surveillance, rescue, prevention, investigation and enquiry.

-How did you learn about this job and how long have you been doing it?
I learned about the job when I was working in a warehouse at the CNISAG (Military Police Ski and Climbing Instruction Centre). I was in this job from 2007 until the end of 2010 which meant that I could get to know the PGHM police paramedics and immerse myself in this totally unknown environment. When I started out and first moved to Chamonix, I wanted to go mountain climbing and become a high mountain guide. Then, through the police, I learned about another type of job, also in the mountains. In 2009, I passed the preparatory exam to become an aspirant guide and I started the training. In 2010, I passed the exam for non-commissioned officers. On 4th January 2011, I started Montluçon training school and finished a year later. I was immediately assigned to the Chamonix PGHM in January 2012.

Your strongest memory?
It’s a job that’s generated lots of memories; although I’ve only been working for two years, there are already thousands of stand-out moments. A rescue I carried out at the Aiguille du Jardin this summer particularly comes to mind, when I got caught out by a storm with the two victims. We sheltered in a small cave and waited around 3 hours for the storm to pass.

PGHM Chamonix
Photo crédit: PGHM Chamonix

Where does your love of the mountains come from?
I’m from Paris and all my family live there. However, my father always took us to Fontainebleau at the weekends and we used to spend winter holidays in Chamonix. Around the age of 20, I started doing a lot of climbing and my desire to explore real mountains became increasingly strong. I began to read a lot of books about mountains and to come on holiday to Chamonix more and more often. I wasn’t interested in life in Paris and the only thing I wanted to do was climb. When I finished my studies, I decided to come to Chamonix to do mountaineering and embark upon the list of climbs you need to complete to sit the preparatory aspirant guide exam.

Your life is totally governed by mountains, if you had to choose a favourite, what would it be?
I wouldn’t say my favourite mountain but – to be original – my favourite peak, is Mont-Blanc. I think that I’ve had some of my best mountaineering experiences on this summit. I’ve always shared them with people I value. Reaching the top of this snowy mound is always an emotional experience, whether you’ve come up the Italian side or taken the normal route.

Because safety is the most important thing, can you give some advice to winter ski tourers?
If you’re touring in winter, either on skis or rackets, you need to have the trio of avalanche essentials: shovel, pole and avalanche rescue beacon. Preparing your route is also very important: you need to find out about the weather and check the avalanche information bulletin.And you need to think carefully about what to put in your rucksack: namely, a mobile, protective glasses, sun cream, warm clothing. The guiding principle is to have fun but without overestimating your ability!




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