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Dublin: 3 °C Sunday 19 November, 2017
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The 1,000 volunteers who 'face peril on every call out'

The death of one of their members this year emphasised the importance of the Irish Coast Guard.

Two fishermen rescued after their boat sinks off the Cork coast
Boy (13) flown to hospital after falling into sinkhole
15 people had to be rescued in multiple incidents at sea yesterday

These are just some of the headlines from incidents from this year where the Irish Coast Guard have made a difference to lives that could have been lost at sea.

Over the past year they have been deployed in hundreds of rescues, involving children, fishermen, experienced sailors and holidayers.

They were also plunged into the heart of a tragedy when in September, their friend, colleague and a branch of their rescue service Caitríona Lucas died while on a recovery mission.

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN paid to Source: Caitriona Lucas/FaceBook

“When a rescue mission becomes a casualty it’s a sad day for us all,” says Gerard O’Flynn, the SARs Operations Manager of the Irish Coast Guard.

“She’s in all our thoughts almost every day and so are her family.”

The heartbreaking incident raised the profile of the work that the Coast Guard do: dropping everything to respond to a call, carrying the weight of responsibility of each incident, and putting their lives at risk for the benefit of the community.

And remarkably, the bulk of the Irish Coast Guard are volunteers, driven purely by the desire to help their community.

Search

To understand exactly how difficult the jobs of Coast Guard members is, you need only look at how they operate.

The Coast Guard have three rescue coordination centres: in Dublin, Malin, and Valencia. They operate over 24 hours and have 40 full time staff.

16/4/2015. Maritime Safety Strategies Source: RollingNews.ie

These rescue centres take calls and keep in touch with any of the boats that are out at sea. If a problem is flagged, they assess it and deciding whether intervention is needed.

That’s when they decide to call on the bulk of their force – 950 voluntary members spread over almost the entire island.

They are notified that they should respond to a call, and go to their rescue stations as soon as they can, says O’Flynn.

“I don’t like to put a response time for volunteers, because it can put their lives in danger if they felt they had to rush from work to one of the rescue stations.”

I know that when they’re aware, they’ll go to their stations as fast as they can. I don’t have any doubt.

The coast guard also work closely with the RNLI, notifying them as soon as a call has been made. They can also call upon the air corps and navy divers, as well as members of the public, so ships out at sea can be called upon to aid in a search.

There’s also the Coast Guard helicopter, which recently liaised with Welsh police and rescue services in the search for a woman who went missing.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

When they’re not responding to a call, Coast Guard volunteers train more than once a week in order to perform highly technical activities. This can include how to operate boats, how to perform cliff rescues, or conducting shoreline searches.

The only limit to a coastline search is the physical fitness of a person, and that’s the value of having local volunteers – they know every street, every key wall.

“These are highly motivated people – forget people like me – these people’s single motivation is to help their communities.”

Funding

This month, Senator Keith Swanick made the following comments in the Dáil calling for funding for the services.

“As a medic working on the West Coast, I regularly liaise closely with our Coast Guard and experience first-hand their bravery and commitment to serving the public whilst putting their own lives in danger.

They face peril on every call out. It is quite unbelievable therefore that the work they do, as a Primary Response Agency is not afforded protection under legislation.

When asked about additional funding, O’Flynn said that there are always requests for more, but that the service offered by the Coast Guard are excellent:

“There are always improvements for equipment, but our helicopters and services are world-class, and are as good as you can possibly have them.”

Safety warnings

So how does the Coast Guard grapple with Ireland’s unpredictable weather?

“The weather in Ireland is reasonably predictable actually, they’re pretty standard and open-sourced services available like Met Éireann.”

But when it comes to going out to sea, how do they decide if it’s safe to go out?

“At the end of the day, the aircraft captain or the coxswain have the final decision whether to go out and search or not.”

He says that this year in particular, there is a much higher level of adherence to safety warnings when compared to other years and “there’s no noticeable increase in the number of rescues”.

In keeping with that trend, and the very serious tone that O’Flynn takes his job, he gives some advice for those heading near the sea this Christmas:

Don’t go out alone. Especially for things like Christmas swims, only go out in groups and don’t swim on your own.
Only go to places you are familiar with, and don’t stay out too late, as it gets dark around 3.30/3.45 at this time of year.
Stay back, stay high, stay dry.

Next year, the Coast Guard’s water safety campaign will be focused around staying in contact with the coast guard services, and staying afloat.

“If you keep in contact with us, while you’re out at sea, we’ll know where you are if things go wrong.”

Read: “It’s not the kind of job you can do if you don’t like getting up at night” – a day in the life of a Coast Guard pilot

Read: Video shows the difference a life jacket makes when you fall in Irish waters

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