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In the 16th of a series of stories on NSRI bases around the country, we chat to a few crew members at Station 18 (Melkbosstrand) to find out more about the base and its family of volunteers.

NSRI Station 18 (Melkbosstrand), much like many other NSRI bases, had humble beginnings. In 1994 the need for a rescue service in Melkbosstrand was identified by the Duynefontein Civil Protection Corps as incidents of people getting into trouble off our coastline were increasing.

With the closest NSRI station situated across the bay at the V&A Waterfront, dealing with any potential emergency would be hampered by long response times. At the time, the cost of operating a rescue service in the area was prohibitive, and Civil Protection called upon members of the community who owned boats and had knowledge of the waters to avail themselves and their craft in cases of emergencies.

Two years later, then-CEO Ian Wienburg officially declared Station 18 operational, and Rhine Barnes was elected station commander. (Rhine would continue to serve the station loyally in this capacity until 2019.) In 1998, Rhine requested that land be allocated by the municipality for the building of a proper base, a request that was granted. It did, however, take another seven years before the crew of Station 18 had a structure they were able to call home. In 2005 when the new base opened its doors, it operated a 5.5m RIB, donated with funds raised by the Rotary Club of Blouberg. The base also acquired its first rescue mobile, a Land Rover, which served the station for 10 years.

A pioneering station

Station 18 was instrumental in a number of developments that were beneficial to the NSRI as a whole, including compiling the very first Crew Tasks Books relating to training and training requirements, which later evolved into formal training courses covering first aid, firefighting and control room operations, to name just a few. In 2017, Station 18 launched the NSRI’s very first Lifeguard Unit. This initiative has spread to many other stations and has become a permanent component of the NSRI’s drowning-prevention strategy.

Jump to 2022, and Station 18 is a recognised landmark on Melkbos’s picturesque waterfront. The crew is 64 strong and the station has responded to around 45 callouts in the last year. “They’re the best bunch of people,” says station commander Hein Köhne of the volunteers. “They’re my family away from home!” Hein, who received his 10-Year Service Award in 2021, joined the NSRI in 2011, and was elected to take the helm in March 2022. The crew, who gather for a full station meeting once a month, is divided into three groups: Alpha, Bravo and Charlie crews. “The three crews operate on a weekly rotation cycle and do handovers each Friday evening. “We usually have a training session sometime over the weekend,” Hein explains.

The Melkbosstrand base has an adjacent helicopter landing pad
The Melkbosstrand base has an adjacent helicopter landing pad

Assisting from land

Anneline Niemand joined Station 18 in 2016, and qualified as a shore controller in January 2019. “After we moved to Melkbos from Gauteng seven years ago, my husband wanted to join a community-based organisation, so he signed up as a trainee crew member at Station 18. He was there for a month and kept telling me and our son about how amazing the NSRI is. His enthusiasm prompted me to join as a volunteer and my son, who was nine at the time, tagged along whenever we were at the station. He shadowed us and sat in on our training and by the time he turned 14, he was ready to join our Junior Trainee Crew programme. As a mom, I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions we could have made to equip him for the future. The discipline of a structured organisation and the sense of service to the community as well as the selfless sacrifices that the NSRI volunteers make daily (not to mention the camaraderie that exists at the station) have been invaluable in shaping him.”

As a shore controller, Anneline is involved in the station’s operations. It’s a vast portfolio that includes radio communications with crews in the water and on land during callouts, as well as assisting concerned family members waiting for news of their loved ones. It also involves activating resources like helicopter, ambulance, fire and rescue and any other services required during an incident. “We also communicate with any eyewitnesses to gather more information about the emergency, and put them at ease by informing them that we are launching. We plot coordinates and calculate search areas, based on information we have and then direct the boat crew to the search area,” Anneline adds.

She acknowledges that her station commander, Hein, and Pierre Reeves helped shape her in her role as a shore controller. “They have a unique way of teaching and their leadership skills are remarkable.” Of her fellow crew, she says, “We all come from different walks of life, but have a common goal: to train, to learn and to be able to save a life. Everyone wants to be there and they want to better their skills to become qualified and be a part of the bigger picture of saving lives. There is a sense of loyalty and dedication to the organisation and fellow crew that can’t be measured. The crew will stand together and we care about each other’s well-being. We get to know each other’s happy and sad days, and sometimes, indirectly, we get to ‘save’ each other,” she smiles.

Double duty

Tristan Classen joined Station 18 in 2018 after a good friend who’d signed on as a lifeguard at the station inspired him with her stories. “I drove past that NSRI building for many years, but never really knew what they did,” Tristan smiles. “My parents never really took part in ocean sports or activities, and I thought I’d break that cycle and get involved.”

Initially, Tristan joined the boat crew and a month or two in, he heard the station would be running a lifeguard course and he immediately grabbed the chance to become a lifeguard. “After getting my crew badge, I was asked to help out with the training academy and, of course, I couldn’t say no. Subsequently, I was asked to join the Class 4 programme and I couldn’t miss that opportunity either.”

Tristan certainly has made the most of his time as a volunteer, but recognises Myck Jubber as being instrumental in his development. “He has a way of bringing information and knowledge across in a simple manner. He doesn’t make anything easy, that’s for sure, but, in the end, you are sure to have a good understanding about whatever you’ve asked him.”

For Tristan, the most valuable lesson he’s learnt as a volunteer is that you can overcome anything, no matter how big or difficult it may seem. “There’s always a way through,” he says. Becoming a volunteer is one of the best things you can do, but Tristan and Anneline both agree it takes good time management to balance volunteering with other commitments. Tristan is aiming to become a Class 4 coxswain, and then one day will move on to Class 3. When asked about his fellow crew, Tristan says, “They’re a great bunch of people who sacrifice a lot to come and help someone in need. We all have a great sense of humour, and I know I can rely on them and they on me at any time.”

Hein sums up the camaraderie nicely: “There’s a saying: the heart of a volunteer is never measured in size, but in the depth of their commitment to make a difference in the lives of others. I’m part of a station with 63 other volunteers. All very passionate and full of energy to save lives. Put them all together and you get a family, a family that operates with a level of discipline that is not always easy to maintain, but we make it work by respecting and supporting each other. Most importantly, we have fun, most of the time …”

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