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In the fourth of a series of stories on NSRI bases around the country, we chat to a few crew members at Station 5 (Durban) to find out more about the base and its family of volunteers.

Station 5 (Durban) is a busy one, responding to between 60 and 70 callouts a year. Many of these have been medevacs off merchant vessels due to Covid-19, says station commander Jonathan Kellerman, who joined the station in February 2015 and was elected to lead the 53-strong crew complement in 2019. Jonathan joined the station while a student, and volunteering quickly became a big part of his life, he says, adding that being StatCom for the last two years has been one of the most incredible experiences of his life.

Jonathan, who is product lead for a retail experience company, has high praise for the Durban crew, describing them as “a fantastic team that is keen to learn and get stuck in”. The station is divided into two sets of crew – port and starboard – and the groups train on alternative weekends, ensuring at least two training sessions each per month. General crew meetings are held every Tuesday evening. He describes the volunteers as extremely welcoming and full of energy, and he’s been encouraged by the growth in the number of volunteers in the last two years, especially younger members. “This keeps things fresh, and allows great friendly competition between the two sets of crews.”

Deputy Station Commander Lorenzo Taverna-Turisan

Memorable callouts

Aside from the medevac of two casualties off Queen Mary 2 in 2020, the station has had a few unforgettable callouts. One particularly hair-raising rescue involved a yacht that had run aground on the dolosse at the South Breakwater at the Port of Durban. The five crew had managed to get off the yacht, but one terrified casualty had become trapped in the dolosse and was unable to get herself to safety. The conditions were foul, and two crew (who subsequently received Bronze Gallantry Awards) were deployed to assist her. The station is also equipped to help during swift-water emergencies. When Durban experienced severe flooding in April 2019, Station 5, along with sister stations Shelly Beach, Rocky Bay and Port Edward, assisted emergency services in evacuating stranding victims.

For deputy station commander Lorenzo Taverna-Turisan, who has been crewing at Station 5 for 18 years, the list of memorable rescues is naturally quite long. Two that come to mind were both long rescues, one lasted 14 hours and the other 21 hours, the latter requiring a crew change. One of the most dramatic, though, was when they were called out to assist two men injured during a marlin fishing competition. The marlin, while being reeled in, had launched itself into the air, injuring one fisherman and causing another to fall back onto a fishing rod holder. Both required urgent medical attention.

Lorenzo handles the operational side of the station. It’s his second stint as 2IC, after work obligations resulted in the first being cut short. Recently, Lorenzo was given the opportunity to be reinstated and he took up the reigns along with Janine Rudolph, who is the first female deputy to be elected at Durban. For Lorenzo, it’s been a very rewarding 18 years and a time of growth both personally and for the station as a whole. “Over the years, I have seen the station improve and the atmosphere is really joyful. Everyone just gets stuck in when it comes to training. We work hard and play even harder. ‘Cause, in the end, if it isn't fun, then what's the point?” he smiles. Of the age range at the station, he comments: “Let’s put it into perspective – when we interviewed Jonathan, our current station commander, five years ago, I noted that he was born in the year I matriculated. The age group starts at 18 and goes up to 72, plus VAT and some change.”

When asked if there are any special characters at the station, Lorenzo is hard pressed to single anyone out. “Everyone is extraordinary! I have made some great friends over the years. Some have left and some are now guardians watching over us. But, I would have to say that when we teach or show our crew new things or different ways of thinking and they come out of the water with a smile from ear to ear, saying. ‘Did you just see what I did?’, that is what sticks in my mind all the time.”

Stephanie Wickham

The newest crew member

Deputy station commander Janine describes the station’s newest crew member, Stephanie Wickham, as amazing, vivacious and enthusiastic. But Stephanie displays equal doses of compassion and humility. Of her decision to join Sea Rescue, she says: “I came out of lockdown with no job and no purpose, and felt a little lost. I was helping out with a clean-up on the sand bank in the harbour and came across a deceased person. I was shocked at how many people I spoke to told me to just leave it, and I decided that this person and their family needed more respect. I had a really strong urge to do something about it but didn’t really know how. One of the individuals that assisted that day pointed me in the direction of a few volunteer organisations, one being Sea Rescue, and as I have always been a keen ocean girl, it was a pretty obvious choice. Becoming crew has been a whirlwind experience. Overwhelming, but definitely one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done, and I feel like there is still so much more I can accomplish here.”

Stephanie gives kudos to Tim Edward who really supported, encouraged and challenged her on her journey to becoming crew. The dynamic at the station really appeals to her too. The younger crew contribute to a fun and exciting atmosphere, “while the group of long-standing crew members bring exceptional wisdom and guidance, and keep us going in the right direction,” she says. “Everyone brings something special to the table; we’re a colourful bunch and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Stephanie hasn’t been out on a rescue yet, but she has loved the action-packed training sessions. “My top two would definitely be the capsize training we did with HQ and the training session we had for a multiple casualty recovery. I’m a big action kind of girl,” she laughs.

Stephanie admits she was a little daunted by the close-knit team of volunteers at Station 5, wondering if she would fit in. But she felt at home in no time. “In this wonderful family, I met some of the most dedicated, selfless and welcoming people I could ever hope to meet.” For anyone considering joining as a volunteer, she has the following advice: “Training will require time and effort, but you will have so much fun finding out what you are capable of, you may even surprise yourself. There is something very special about being part of something bigger than you. Jump in! (Feet first, of course!)”

Siyabonga ‘Siya’ Mthethwa, who has been at Station 5 for seven years, agrees. “If you want to join, don’t hesitate! There is lot to learn from Sea Rescue, and by giving of your time, you can save lives. But one of the most empowering things you can get from the NSRI is education and skills, and these will remain yours forever,” he says.

Siyabonga ‘Siya’ Mthethwa

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Siya’s most memorable callout wasn’t the most challenging or difficult one, but it was the one that made him the proudest to be a volunteer. “It was a ‘yellow code’, but I remember the excitement of being part of the crew going out at night to tow a fishing vessel with motor trouble. I actually ran to the base as I had no car at the time but, luckily, I stayed about a kilometre from the base, and I was the first person to report in. It was good to see myself setting up the towline like a boss, but the best moment came when one of the fisherman asked me, ‘Are you guys going to charge us?’ and I said, ‘No, we’re not going to charge you guys. It’s a free service, but you can make a donation to the NSRI. We’re all volunteers.’ The gentlemen were blown away and at the time I was so proud and glad to be part of the NSRI.”

Siya’s commitment extends beyond the walls of Station 5. In 2019 he joined the NSRI’s Drowning Prevention department as a Water Safety educator, a journey, he describes as awesome from day one. “I have seen myself growing tremendously over the time through hard work and my passion to save lives.” This year, Siya was appointed team leader for KwaZulu-Natal, and is looking forward to being able to save lives on the water and through education.

Siya joined NSRI when he was a student, and learnt from the beginning that good time management was essential to balance work, family and volunteering. He attributes his career success at Station 5 to the support and care displayed by his coxswain and the senior crew. (We have it on good authority that Siya is an awesome ballroom dancer too!)

Also read...

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