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We chatted to Station 5’s (Durban) deputy station commander, Jarrod Garber, about why it was important to set up an Umhlanga satellite station.

Umhlanga is a resort town situated about 15km north of Durban. It’s a popular residential area, but it’s also well known as a recreational and holiday destination thanks to its beaches and water sports offering. It might not be far from Durban Harbour as the crow flies, but for the Station 5 (Durban) NSRI crew based there, launching to respond to an incident at Umhlanga is a time-consuming exercise. And time is the one thing crews don’t have in an emergency.

“Recently, Station 5 has been called out to a number of rescue scenarios in Umhlanga,” explains Jarrod Garber, Station 5’s (Durban) deputy station commander. “These included paddlers who capsized, jetskis with engine trouble, surfskis lost in the surf zone and sinking vessels. As more and more incidents occurred in the area, the challenge of responding timeously became greater,” he adds.

After the Victor Daitz Foundation generously donated a JetRIB to Station 5, the idea was born to put it to use where it was needed most – at Umhlanga. JetRIBs are state-of-the-art surf-rescue vessels that have revolutionised rescues in the surf zone due to their stability, easy launch from the beach, ability to carry a number of casualties and eco-friendly jet-propulsion engines.

Plans were set in motion to find a suitable base and launch site for what would become Station 50. “A site is being rented at the iconic Whalebone Pier on Mcasuland Drive, which allows easy access to launch through the Granny’s Pool launch site. This is the safest channel to launch from as the area is known for its large surf conditions, rocks and steep shore breaks,” Jarrod explains. “There has been such a positive response from the local surfski and fishing communities to the NSRI’s presence in Umhlanga. Being able to launch here reduces our response time from the Durban base by more than half.”

Umhlanga satellite station

To prepare crew for operating from Umhlanga, a key focus area was JetRIB training and rescue swimming. This training is overseen by Station 5, and volunteers wishing to serve at Umhlanga would need a JetRIB or Class 4 coxswain qualification, “because of the physically demanding nature of the surf conditions and handling the JetRIB,” he explains. Jarrod, a Class 4 coxswain and ASR rescue swimmer, knows what’s involved in training crews in the rigours – both physical and mental – of surf rescue. “The demands of surf-rescue swimming require extreme stamina and fitness, and every six months already qualified surf-rescue swimmers at the new station will need to undergo and pass fitness tests,” he adds.

A number of Station 5 crew, including Jarrod, live in Umhlanga, so there was no shortage of volunteers for the new station. “This is our northern crew,” he says, “and previously Station 5 would have two crew training sessions per month, now we have three, to accommodate the Umhlanga base’s training requirements.”

A day after the station’s recent opening, KwaZulu-Natal was hit by one of the worst storms and floods in recent history, and the new station proved invaluable as a base of operations for the northern team for the duration of the disaster.

“The guys are very passionate about what they do,” Jarrod says. “You can see it with the cross-training we do with Station 5. It’s also great that the surf-rescue proficiency is being spread around.” There will be plenty more surf-based rescue for Station 50 volunteers who are looking forward to receiving their new rescue mobile, a Suzuki Jimny, soon. Station 50 is ideally situated between Station 5 and Station 41 (Ballito), and the crew can respond to incidents at Virginia, Glenashley, La Lucia, Umdloti, Peace Cottage, Sibaya and Umhlanga.

We wish the new station and its dedicated crew everything of the best.

Images: Etienne van Zyl

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