In the 12th of a series of stories on NSRI bases around the country, we chat to a few crew members at Station 14 (Plettenberg Bay) to find out more about the base and its family of volunteers.
For Station 14 (Plettenberg Bay) station commander Jaco Kruger, the word “collective” is an important one. Jaco has been a volunteer at Station 14 for 17 years and station commander for a year. And if his experience serving as a volunteer has taught him anything, it’s that the success of a station depends on crew working as a collective. “Training is key to the success of our station. Rescues and training create a bond among volunteers that is near indestructible. We are a great team of strong individuals working as a collective,” he says.
Jaco comes from a lifesaving background, and soon after moving to Plett, he joined Station 14, “a station of excellence” where he could learn from the best. He acknowledges the late Ray Farnham as playing a huge role in his rescue career. “Ray was a role model for me. He had an understanding of when to push the crew and balance that out with a great deal of care and support for the guys and girls,” Jaco says.
Speaking of excellence, Station 14 has had a slew of awards and acknowledgements, including winning the RIB Station of the Year and receiving recognition from the International Maritime Rescue Federation’s (IMRF) for their purpose-built rescue stretcher that reached the finals in the Innovation and Technology category. The stretcher is designed for coastline rock and surf-patient extrication.
To keep the collective strong, crew meetings and training are held each Wednesday, with real-life rescues numbering around 40 a year. When asked to single out a memorable rescue, Jaco says there have been so many it’s difficult to call up any particular one. “We’ve had fires, floods, plane crashes… there’ve been so many times when this team has excelled in the face of danger and when duty calls,” he says.
A professional station
It’s this strong work ethic that attracted rescue swimmer and Plett local Matthew Leppan (20) to the station. Getting his crew badge was one of Matthew’s proudest moments. “To be accepted into the team was really special. It was a huge confidence boost because it shows you that they trust you to have their back and they trust your capabilities, which is incredible for a station as professional as this one,” he says.
Of his reason to join the NSRI, Matthew says he wanted to be involved in helping others and the community, and with his background in water sports, Station 14 was the perfect place to do this. “Volunteers need to have a bit of everything,” he says, but he singles out three qualities that he feels are important for a rewarding career in rescue services. “You need to show commitment. You need to communicate – the better your communication is, the more efficient and successful your work will be. And you need a strong ethic, which includes being able to embrace failure, and be willing to try over and over until you complete the task you were struggling with.”
Matthew is excited at the possibilities for growth at Station 14. “Going forward, I’d like to continue being 100% committed. There are so many different skills that can be learnt at the NSRI – from the control room to rescue swimming. I would like to improve my medical knowledge, though, as this is important for rescue swimming.”
While Matthew says it’s difficult to select any one person at the station who has made a big impression on him, he does take his hat off to fellow crewman Robbie Gibson. “Robbie is a super all-rounded individual. One of the best coxswains as well as highly knowledgeable in just about all areas of the NSRI. He is very level-headed and is good at taking all the possible risks and rewards into consideration. You always feel safe and confident when going on a rescue with him. Not only this but he is an incredible teacher; he'll never say no to you if you ask for help and he'd give up any spare time to assist,” Matthew says.
To anyone thinking of joining the NSRI, Matthew says it’s without a doubt one of the best things one can do. “Show them you want to be there, that you have what it takes. Believe in yourself and trust your abilities, but also know your limits – safety comes first.”
Life is precious
Giving back was also on Class 4 coxswain Monica Taylor’s mind when she joined Station 14. “I studied conservation and specialised in the marine field. I ended up working as a marine guide and dive master, and figured, as I might need help one day, I’d be proactive and give back first,” she smiles.
For her, passion, compassion, and tenacity are key aspects of volunteering. As the first female coxswain at Station 14, she has plenty of all three of these qualities, and believes that gender shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving their goals. “Most of the guys have been great in the way that they didn’t see me as female but as a fellow crew member from day one! I did have to work at it though. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.”
Like Jaco, Monica finds it difficult to pinpoint a single memorable rescue. “The ones that stand out are the ones when you actually know the person or casualty, which is a reminder that everyone is special to someone and deserves your best effort,” she explains. What she has learnt over the years is that we need each other to be the best versions of ourselves while we can because life is precious!
Monica regards her fellow crew as extraordinary beings, who contribute 100% to Jaco’s “collective”. “We are like family,” she adds. “We work hard and have fun together with loads of laughs in between. And we are always there for one another.”
Deputy station commander Laurent Eray joined Station 14 in 1995. Lifesaving was always close to his heart, and as a lifeguard on Central Beach, he was always watching what was going on – from callouts to training. He also made a point of getting to the beach early when he knew there would be helicopter exercises with the SAAF. “I’d be there the whole day,” he smiles. It was Marty Reddering, a friend and longstanding crew member who finally persuaded Laurent to join the station.
Naturally, Laurent has seen his fair share of rescues in his 27 years of service. One that will remain with him forever occurred shortly after he joined the station. It was the Easter weekend and he was actually working as a lifeguard that day.
“Around 11am, just after low tide the siren and pagers went off for a life-and-death situation. Two kids were in trouble in the river mouth on an outgoing tide after their canoe capsized. I raced to the station and we launched our 5m rescue boat. Steph le Roux was coxswain that morning and I remember him saying we need to be quick. Fellow crew members Brian Brink and Ray Farnham junior were on board with us.
“Approaching the river mouth was very tricky due to the outgoing tide, and the sun reflecting off the water made it difficult to see. After a second sweep closer in we spotted someone floating in the water. The rescue vessel approached and I was instructed to get out and attend to him as the crew needed to find the second child. I reached the casualty who was unresponsive at the time. Holding the young boy’s head up out of the water and trying to keep steadfast on the sand below in a strong outgoing tide proved to be extremely difficult.
“A second crew member joined me and sort of pushed me from behind, helping me fight the current. I managed to do some rescue breaths in between, but the outgoing tide proved to be strong, and I was scared I was going to lose my footing. We signalled to the boat for a pick-up. At that stage the casualty was still unresponsive. The boat came in and picked us up. Once onboard, with the casualty lying across the deck, we proceeded back to the base while performing CPR. Once we were on the beach, we raced the casualty up to the station where other crew members took over. I am glad to say that this was a life saved and as far as I can remember the other child from the canoe had made it back to the beach. It was a rescue that will stay with me forever.”
Station 14 is by all accounts a busy station, one where each person in the collective knows their job and works hard to maintain a cohesive unit. Where everyone has each other’s back and where knowledge is shared and growth is encouraged. It’s base building on Central Beach is possibly as iconic to the town as the town is to the Garden Route. We wish the station and crew only great things for the future!
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