Foyle Search & Rescue - a fourth emergency service

IN the fifteen years since a small group of volunteers first manned the banks of the Foyle, Foyle Search and Rescue (FSR) has grown to become widely regarded as the fourth emergency service serving the city.

From its inception in 1993 , when founders Harry Boyle and Billy Garnett realised the need to man the Foyle, the charity have directly helped more than 1000 people who have found themselves in distress.

Initially volunteers used payphones to contact the emergency services if someone was in trouble in the river but as time progressed FSR has progressed and evolved into a modern day rapid response team.

From their state of the art base at Prehen, a dedicated team of volunteers now provides 24 hour coverage of the Foyle, Faughan and the waterways around Strabane.

Last year the Shore patrol team directly helped a total of 103 people across the northwest.

FSR vice-chair Craig Smyth said it was right the charity should be viewed as the city's fourth emergency service.

"The Fire Brigade, Ambulance service and police would acknowledge us as such.

"At present we have two pager teams who are equipped and trained to respond to any situation 24 hours a day seven days a week.

"That is in addition to our Shore Patrols who man the river from 9pm to 3am every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

"Often it will take a personal tragedy for the public to realise how detailed our work is and some people still have a perception that we get paid for our work."

FSR's group of around forty volunteers each adopt a different role within the organisation.

Arguably the most harrowing work is undertaken by the recovery team - responsible for reclaiming bodies from the river.

" Anyone who is interested in volunteering will find something that suits them, be it through our fundraisers Friends of Foyle Search and Rescue or by working in the Shore Patrol," Craig said

"The recovery team is not for everyone."

He said a sense of togetherness and camaraderie helped volunteers cope with even the most harrowing of circumstances.

" Professional counseling is available but a lot of the team will rely on chatting with each other , in a way informal debriefing. Everyone is really close.

"At time the craic is brilliant, but as soon as anything happens it is serious and time to go to work."

Craig believes in an ideal world there would be no need for FSR but he said their work was invaluable to helping families who have experienced the trauma of losing a loved one to the river.

He said in recent years more and more young people were being engaged by the Shore Patrols

Over the next five years FSR hope to continually strive to maintain the quality of service provision.

Plans include extending the base at Prehen and at present FSR are considering purchasing a hovercraft that would allow greater access to the Foyle's hard to reach bays.

But in the short term the charity are wholly dependent on charitable contributions to survive.

" We are always in need of funding and we would appeal to anyone who can help.

" I would also ask for the public to help us. There is always a problem with people vandalising the life belts along the river. They are their to help save lives," he said.

He also expressed concerns over plans to build a third bridge across the Foyle.

" Obviously it will be great for the city, but I would appeal for measures to be put in place such as raising the railings as has been done on the Foyle Bridge,2 he said

More information on volunteering or the work of FSR can be obtained by contacting Foyle Search and Rescue on 71313800