We are extremely lucky in the UK to have such reliable and hard-working emergency services to hand 24/7, but did you know that as well as police, fire and ambulance services, there are other less-known organisations that are called upon in times of distress? One of these is the Coastguard, and there are 350 teams stationed around the UK. We are proud to have our very own Porthleven Coastguard Team, and editor Bethany met with them to find out what being a volunteer for this service involves.
It was a rainy and blustery evening in January, and as I entered the Coastguard base, I was feeling grateful to be in the warm and dry. This of course would not be the case for the Porthleven Coastguard Team should they get called on a shout, and this weather in particular would be likely to set off an alert if anyone got into trouble.
“You never know what you’ll get from one day to the next,” said Deputy Station Officer Anthony Penrose.
“We have a varied role, but in bad weather we do get called upon more regularly as people can be caught out by rough weather or strong tides.”
After a round of hot drinks, conversation was in full swing, and I found there was a lot more to the role than you would think.
Although members are volunteers and safe in the knowledge that their role is a valuable one both for the community and for visitors to the town, it can be an extremely hazardous one too. Their role includes looking for missing persons, weather watches, water rescue, rope rescue, ambulance assistance and on-site first aid.
I asked how often they get called out, and how it worked. Surely they weren’t expected to be on call all the time? Surprisingly they are, and all members are on call 24/7 ready to respond if they are needed. HM Coastguard are the coordinating authority for search and rescue at sea, on the cliffs and coastline of the UK.
Coastguard Rescue such as Porthleven Coastguard Team respond to emergencies on the cliff or coast but can be called on to assist other emergency services during events such as flooding and missing person searches, not only on the coast, but wherever they may be required. Although there is no obligation to answer a shout, it was clear to me that any one of the members would be ready to attend if they were needed.
“As Coastguard Rescue Officers we respond to incidents on the coast in all weather conditions. Whether day or night we are ready to go,” said Jeremy Mitchell, a member of the Coastguard Team for 12 years. “We are highly trained in cliff and water rescue as well as searching for missing persons and medical care. If we need more people to affect a rescue we can call on our flank Coastguard Teams of Mullion or Penzance, or other emergency organisations such as fire and rescue, police or ambulance services.”
It is this passion for the role that shines through in all of them, and you can tell that it means a lot to be part of the team. Which got me thinking, how do you become part of the team in the first place? The best person to tell me was Carol Jewell, who is fresh out of training and the most recent member of the team.
“There are 12 people on the team at a time, so if spaces come up, the role is advertised like any other. There is a fitness test and interview to pass before you are formally offered the role, and you then have a 5-day intensive course to graduate to the team properly,” said Carol, who completed her training in November 2019. “We then have a training day once a month to ensure we are refreshed on all the scenarios that could happen.”
As the evening drew to a close, there were some parting words from deputy officer Anthony Penrose, who wanted to ensure that the Discover Porthleven readers, particularly those visiting, were aware of the dangers around the coast.
“Certain areas of the coast can be very dangerous for swimming, especially in rough weather. If you are going to enjoy a day at the beach or swim in the sea, we recommend that you go to a lifeguarded beach. If you are walking along cliffs, wear the right shoes and clothes and take a mobile phone with you. If you are taking your dog, keep it on a lead and stick to marked paths. If you see anyone in trouble on the coast call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”
We are extremely grateful to the Porthleven Coastguards for their hard work and dedication to keeping us all safe. To find out more about the team and what they do visit their Facebook page @PorthlevenCoastguardTeam