England

The emergency volunteers on call at Christmas

While most people spend Christmas relaxing at home, members of volunteer rescue organisations are keeping an eye on their mobile phone or pager.

Around the county, hundreds are ready for a call to rush to emergency situations at home or abroad and potentially put their lives on the line.

BBC News has been talking to some of them.


Nikky Williams - RNLI Trainee

Image copyright Richard Horobin/RNLI
Image caption Nikky Williams is midway through her training as an RNLI crew member

Nikky Williams, 21, started her training as an RNLI crew member in July so this will be her first Christmas on call to help deal with emergencies along the Devon and Dorset coast.

She is the youngest and only female crew member of the Lyme Regis team and will spend part of Christmas Day at Charmouth and New Year's Day in Lyme Regis helping provide safety cover for charity fundraising events.

"I've always worked around the harbour and would see the lifeboat crews going out - I remember thinking 'that's exciting, I'd like to be part of that'. It's nice to be able to help people.

"Everyone is like a family, we're all friends - it's very laid-back until a call comes in and everyone goes into work mode and you put your training into practice.

"We've got pagers and you never know when it's going to go off. Normally it's when I'm sitting down for dinner - then I'm off out the door," she said.


Jon Chapman and Isla - rescue dog team

Image copyright Berskahire Rescue Dogs

Jon Chapman, 41, and his three year-old Hungarian visla, Isla, are one of a team of owners and specially trained pet dogs of Berkshire Search and Rescue Dogs ready to help with police search operations - usually for missing persons.

Isla is trained to pick up human scent and can search an area of woodland 30-40m either side of a path 10 times faster than a human could.

Mr Chapman said: "She is two different dogs - she'll lie around on the sofa but then when she gets her orange jacket on, she switches into search mode.

"Missing people can be very despondent. With Christmas as a happy family time, if you don't have that it can be very depressing. So we normally do get at least one callout on Christmas Day. The idea is to find the person, alive or dead, so at least their family will know.

"But it can be very rewarding - we managed to find an elderly lady after 10 hours recently, so we definitely saved a life there."


Peter Lilley - inshore rescue

Image copyright John Millard
Image caption Peter Lilley has been a Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade since 2003

The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade (TVLB) attends more than 100 incidents a year along the North Tyneside coastline or the north bank of the River Tyne.

Volunteer Peter Lilley, 28, said: "In the 12 years we've been called out twice on Christmas Day. Once in the early evening to prepare a landing site for the RAF Rescue helicopter, and then last year at 4am to assist the police in locating a distressed male near Cullercoats Bay.

"Being on call is a way of life, we don't run a rota at any point of the year and have always been able to rely on the goodwill of our volunteers to attend when called to. It does mean missing out on the occasional glass of sherry or pint of real ale.

"Being totally honest, dealing with fatalities never gets any easier, no matter how long you serve with the team - but that is part of the role we have so you find a way to cope with it.

"The flipside is the coastline can be totally breathtaking - both on a calm summer day's and during a violent winter's storm. We have fantastic group of members who look after each other."


Emma Johnson - mountain rescue

Image copyright Mountain Rescue
Image caption The Penrith Mountain Rescue team, of which Emma Johnson is a member, covers 965 sq miles of the Lake District

Mountain rescue volunteer Emma Johnson has been a member of the Penrith Mountain Rescue Team for eight years.

The team covers the largest area of of the mountain rescue teams in the Lake District and most recently has been dealing with the aftermath of the Cumbrian floods, rescuing people from inundated homes and checking on isolated properties.

About 25 members will be on call over the Christmas period.

Ms Johnson said: "It can be hit or miss over Christmas. People are on holiday so can be out and about on the hills - they can get lost, fall, or have a heart attack.

"Hypothermia is the biggest threat - people get cold very quickly out on the hills, even if they aren't injured.

"It takes a lot of commitment and there are a lot of technical skills to learn - medical skills, rope skills and learning to navigate, but it's good to give something back."


Julie Ryan - overseas rescue

Image copyright International Rescue Corps
Image caption Julie Ryan's first overseas mission was to help deal with the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1996

Julie Ryan, 49, is on standby in case she and colleagues from the International Rescue Corps (IRC) are needed to lend their skills in disaster zones around the world.

The NHS manager from York has been deployed to search for earthquake survivors in devastated areas of Colombia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

"We are on call 24/7, 365 days a year, but I just have to treat it as any normal Christmas and deal with any call as it comes in. I am always conscious there could be a potential disaster lurking around the corner.

"The Bam earthquake in Iran in 2003 was on Boxing Day and although I personally didn't go, a team from IRC did. I was left at home dropping everything to handle to hundreds of calls which came in.

"The best thing is the sense of being able to do something - I am not a rich person so couldn't throw money at a situation but I have the skills, expertise and experience to make a difference, even if it is to just one person and their family."


Matt Denton - coastguard

Image copyright Wyke CRT
Image caption Matt Denton has been a coastguard volunteer for two years

Matt Denton, 38, is part the Wyke coastguard's volunteer initial response team on standby for cliff and water rescues along the Dorset coast.

"It entirely depends on the weather, really. If it's nice over Christmas then we could expect possible missing persons, overdue water sports enthusiasts, walkers and climbers in difficulties or dogs over cliffs.

"That's the thing with being on call, you just don't know when the next page will come in, or what it will be. You go into autopilot and just go.

"We do get some tough jobs that can be emotionally draining. Inevitably, it can also impact on family life. I'm often not home to say goodnight to my son, though he does enjoy seeing the photos of the helicopters and lifeboats."


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