Lifeguards to the rescue

LIFEGUARDS and RNLI staff have teamed up with the police and ambulance services to bring help and support to remote communities cut off by deep snow and extreme icy conditions. A North Devon hilltop may seem a strange callout for the RNLI, whose duties

LIFEGUARDS and RNLI staff have teamed up with the police and ambulance services to bring help and support to remote communities cut off by deep snow and extreme icy conditions.

A North Devon hilltop may seem a strange "callout" for the RNLI, whose duties usually involve water that isn't frozen, but the four wheel drive pick up trucks used by its Lifeguards are just as at home in the snow as on the beach.

The charity has provided the use of its vehicles to help reach areas where in some places more than a foot of snow has all but closed roads except to the most rugged forms of transport.

It means police assistance, vital prescription medicines or medical help can still get to those trapped in their homes by the weather, especially those who are elderly or vulnerable.

It also means police officers can still patrol their communities and continue their duties following up on crimes despite the conditions. So far the service has been used in the Bratton Fleming and Braunton areas.

"The RNLI have kindly offered their services and their four by fours to help us out in the rural areas," said PCSO Gareth Woolway, who covers Bratton Fleming, Goodleigh, Shirwell and Loxhore.

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"I have an extensive area to cover and our role is to go out on patrol and check everything is okay, with no accidents or incidents on the roads. Its also part of our ongoing commitment to engaging with the community and offering reassurance.

"In rural areas and along the coast we have been helping our pharmacies where elderly or vulnerable people are in desperate need of medicines but have no other way of getting them."

In Braunton Matt Whitley, RNLI lifeguard supervisor and Vaughan Lawson, Area Lifeguard Manager have been working with the police.

"We've been assisting mainly by delivering medical supplies to elderly people, some of who can't even get up their pathways because it is so slippery in the ice and snow," said Matt.

"For many of us the snow is a novelty but it can bring misery to less mobile people so we're more than happy to help out where we can."

Patrolling with PCSO Woolway at Bratton Fleming were RNLI technicians Adam Campbell-Garnett and Mark Williams, whose usual role is to repair and service the myriad of mechanical equipment the charity uses in its rescues on the coats and at sea.

"We did the same role after the heavy snow last year," explained Adam.

"The RNLI offers a rapid response service for disasters such as flooding around the UK, so generally it can be for any humanitarian assistance.

"We're on stand by for the ambulance service as well, to take paramedics to inaccessible locations."

RNLI staff are put on standby when atrocious wintry weather is forecast and its services were needed from last Wednesday in rural areas such as Bratton Fleming, where a deluge of snow and deep drifts closed both major and minor roads.

The charity's vehicles are a common sight on summer beaches but at this time of year they are usually "idle" in storage as they go through routine maintenance in preparation for the summer.

n BRITISH Red Cross teams have also been playing their part in bringing emergency relief to snowbound communities. Emergency response husband and wife team Paul and Pam Willerton have been battling through snow in specially equipped 4x4 ambulances to reach people in need of help.

A paramedic who had been called out to an emergency in Chumleigh was unable to reach a woman who needed to be taken to hospital. He had abandoned his vehicle and walked the rest of the way, so the Red Cross 4x4 ambulance was vital in taking patient and paramedic to hospital.

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