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NSRI Lifeguard Training Coordinator Rebecca Carter-Smith recounts a recent rescue that – yet again – illustrates the value of the NSRI’s Pink Rescue Buoys.

The call-out

Lifeguard Training Coordinator Rebecca Carter-Smith and NSRI Lifeguard Operations Manager Stewart Seini were in their office when they received a message from the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC): there was a potential drowning in progress at Sunset Beach.

“Our office is a few minutes away – NSRI HQ in Milnerton – and we knew there were no lifeguards on duty in that area, so we went to investigate,” says Rebecca. “We didn’t have an exact location, so we made our way to the closest parking lot along the beach and immediately saw a few people standing at the edge, looking and pointing in the direction of the swimmer.”

After a quick assessment, Rebecca and Stewart saw no one had gone into the water yet, and the decision was taken for Rebecca to swim and for Stewart to stand by to administer medical care, playing to their respective strengths.

“I quickly changed out of my jeans and into a pair of swimming shorts,” says Rebecca. “At this point, a surfer – who’d arrived before us – managed to get into his wetsuit and ran, with his surfboard, into the water to help with the rescue. We continued with our original plan in case the surfer needed back up.”

“His chances of survival were quickly diminishing”

As she ran down to the beach, an observer handed Rebecca a Pink Rescue Buoy (PRB) that she’d retrieved from a nearby PBR stand, which Rebecca gratefully accepted and took into the water.

“It was cold, but my adrenaline had just kicked in and my only thought was getting the PRB to the struggling swimmer. I knew he’d been battling the water for at least 10 minutes, having assessed the time it takes to get pulled out by a rip current, plus the call-out and response times. Getting some sort of floatation device to him could mean the difference between life and death.”

As she approached, Rebecca heard the swimmer crying for help. “I shouted back at every opportunity: ‘We’re coming to help! Just stay calm!’ I thought if he could just hear that help was on the way, he would keep fighting to stay above water. Yet the time between calls for help began to get a bit longer. I just thought, ‘Please don’t give up, please just stay afloat.’ I didn’t want it to turn into a search for a missing swimmer.”

“I found him conscious, but very confused”

Rebecca knew she needed to get the swimmer back as fast as possible. The freezing water and the time frame meant his body’s adrenaline would be dropping quickly, and he’d need oxygen soon.

“At this point, I had caught up to the surfer, and kept checking with him for a visual on the casualty, as I couldn’t see past the swells. I managed to get to the casualty first and found him conscious, but very confused and lethargic. I gave him the PRB, ready to move away in case he panicked and tried to climb over me – something panicked swimmers do, no matter who you are to them. I started assisting the casualty back to shore when the surfer arrived, then we were shortly joined by another two individuals.

“The casualty, at this point, was barely able to hold onto the PRB, so we secured him as best we could onto the surfboard until we reached the shore, where we carried him to Stewart. He had secured a safe spot to assess the swimmer, who was in and out of consciousness. After about five minutes, the paramedics arrived with oxygen and we handed him over. He made a full recovery.”

Pink Rescue Buoy Rebecca

Pink Rescue Buoys: double saviours

The NSRI’s Pink Rescue Buoy initiative has been a ground-breaking innovation for drowning prevention since 2017, winning the IMRF (International Maritime Rescue Federation) Award for Innovation and Technology in 2018.

“In my opinion, every successful PRB is a double save,” says Rebecca. “So many lives have been lost because a good Samaritan tries to assist someone in difficulty without a rescue aid, and they end up getting into trouble themselves.”

Rebecca has personally been involved in at least seven searches for bystanders that went into the water without rescue aids and ended up drowning themselves.

“These are truly tragic drownings because they were only trying to help, their natural reaction was to save their friend, relative, or even a stranger. PRBs have given so many people a second chance. They are readily available and they have instructions on the poles that tell you who to call. Even as a seasoned lifeguard, I feel much more confident knowing where the PRBs are located in case of an emergency.”

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