Hunstanton Coastguard Rescue Team – The crew always ready to race to the rescue
Michael Fysh is about to leave his house for a family meal. Steve Howell is looking forward to a takeaway curry.
But their plans are ditched without warning when their pagers bleep and phones ring and they are on their way to answer yet another distress call.
Racing to the rescue like this is par for the course for Michael, Steve and the rest of the Hunstanton coastguard rescue team who are on alert 24/7 to react to emergencies along the coast and in the local waterways.
This is one job which has no respect for time of day - or night – or weather conditions but the disruption is more than balanced by the satisfaction of being able to help someone in trouble and maybe saving a life.
This particular shout had a happy ending. A concerned member of the public had sounded the alarm when they saw people in the sea at Old Hunstanton and thought they were in difficulties. Station Officer Michael and his fellow volunteers rushed to the scene to find that all was well and were able to log it as a “call with good intent”.
It is not always that easy and there have been times, especially during the holiday season, when they have been to life threatening incidents and rescued people who are in real danger.
The coastguards are a front line 999 emergency service and the Hunstanton team is the first port of call in an area stretching from Lynn round to Brancaster. They are alerted by Humber coastguard which co-ordinates teams along the whole of the east coast and based on the information they have been given and what they find at the scene, it is up to Michael to decide what action is needed and whether they should enlist the help of other services such as the RNLI, police and fire crews.
The coastguards were called out five times in three consecutive days earlier this month.
They were among the multi-agency response to the plane crash on Wolferton Marsh which sadly killed two people. Later that day they trekked nearly four miles over mudflats to help retrieve two dogs that had escaped from their owner.
Next day they were alerted to a medical emergency at Holkham, then to a kite surfer in trouble and next day it was for a missing person. Thankfully, most of these resulted in them being stood down but each time they left their day jobs to answer the call.
Flicking through their meticulously detailed log book highlights the sort of incidents that they face on a regular basis. They range from helping to rescue people trapped by the unpredictable tides that are a feature of this stretch of coastline to freeing animals stuck in the mud, investigating unexploded wartime bombs and protecting stranded whales.
“No call out is ever exactly the same but that is one of the best things about this job,” said Michael.
Variety and job satisfaction would also be Steve’s message to anyone wanting to join the team – and that is another challenge they are facing They should have 11 people in their team but numbers have dwindled and they launched a recruitment drive in the summer to try to attract more volunteers.
At the moment there are three fully qualified members, two on probation and expected to qualify shortly and four new recruits who have just started their training.
“We have never had a waiting list and it was tough being reduced to five people so our newcomers are very welcome and we would still like more,” said Michael.
Steve added: “There is great camaraderie here. We look out for each other and it’s like a family.”
As well as Michael, who is a plumbing and heating engineer, and Snettisham postman Steve, there is Steve’s son Ben, Ian Tuddenham and Les Collinson. The four recruits are Les’s son Tom, Adam Borley, Tony Miguel and Dawn Morris-Statham, a retired police officer who is their first female recruit in six years.
To become a coastguard, recruits need to be a minimum of 18 years old, hold a driving licence, be enthusiastic, a team player and live within 20 minutes of their base which is on the industrial estate at Hunstanton. They will need to train at the base every Monday evening and to be prepared for shouts at any time of day and night.
It is not a job for the faint-hearted. This year’s for the Hunstanton team has included calls to people trapped off-shore, stuck in the mud and stuck on sandbanks especially in the summer when holidaymakers venture out onto the beaches and find themselves cut off by the tide.
There have been kite and windsurfers in trouble and boats drifting out of control. The first call of this year was to a woman stuck in the mud while trying to catch her dog at Holme.
One summer day saw them trying to deal with multiple rescues in three different locations at the same time with people stranded on sandbars and some in imminent danger and in such deep water they were having to swim.
In August a father and his two young daughters were swept along by the sea at Hunstanton and were minutes from tragedy when the RNLI hovercraft was launched.
The team called out the RNLI hovercraft to help save two teenagers trapped near the wreck on Brancaster beach, helped with a cliff rescue and found themselves walking several miles along the riverbank at Denver Sluice - and back – in search of a boat drifting out of control when its engine failed.
Most incidents offshore are caused by lack of knowledge and foresight about the risks.
“People don’t always think what they are doing and suddenly find themselves in trouble,” said Michael. “We wouldn’t lecture them but we would give them advice. By the time they see us they are more than aware of what they have done wrong.”
Recent years have also seen an increase in calls to ordnance found on the beaches. The coastguards role is to asses any immediate danger, cordon off the site and, if necessary, alert bomb disposal teams.
The coastguard’s life saving equipment includes their sturdy 4x4 vehicle loaded with rescue kit including dry suits for the crew, life jackets and flotation devices, throw lines including one 50m rescue line, first aid equipment, lighting rigs, hand-held search lights and hand-held torches.
They answered 70 calls in 2016 and this year that figure has already been topped and there hasn’t been a single month without some sort of incident – hence the need for a full quota of volunteers.
Anyone interested in finding out more can contact Michael Fysh on 07799 423180.
And for anyone interested: Michael got his meal, albeit a little late, and Steve got his curry but it was cold!