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OPERATION CENTRE (EOC)

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Eat, sleep, train, repeat. This is the mantra of the NSRI crew at one of only five inland dam bases in the country.

“For me, ‘station commander’ is nothing but a name tag. I see myself as part of the crew, and the crew see me that way, too. Of course, the position does come with responsibilities, which I am grateful for.”

This is the ethos – described by Station 22 commander Jake Manten – that defines the Vaal Dam crew. Everyone is valued equally, expected to give 110% in the execution of their duties, and consider it an honour to serve their community.

Made up of a diverse group of 10 dedicated individuals – seagoing crew and nine trainees, along with one shore controller – the Vaal Dam NSRI crew members get along like family. “Together, we eat, sleep, train, repeat. Each of us teaches the other something new, be it about search and rescue, or something more personal.”

station 22 crew


Unsurprisingly, rescue work runs in Jake’s blood: his grandfather was the founder of Station 22. During the construction of the Vaal Dam, a small village named Deneysville was founded. In the 80s, with the dam’s popularity as a holiday and watersport destination rapidly rising, it became evident that there was a need for a rescue station. Jake’s grandfather, Dick Manten – a master boat builder who founded Manten Marina at Deneyville in 1974 – volunteered his services to the NSRI, and a station was formed at the end of 1984.

A typical week for Station 22 is somewhat different from other stations, says Jake, as most of the crew reside a fair distance from the station – the furthest being in Pretoria (over an hour’s drive). For this reason, a standby crew consisting of those who live only a minute or two from the station are on duty on weekdays.

“We hold a training session every weekend, where crew members come to the base, pitch a tent or find a couch in my living room. Everyone lives and trains together for two days. It’s intense, and it’s also the best way to discover people’s weak points and strengths. There are sailing events most weekends, so in the event that a call comes in for a rescue, our station is prepped and on the water to assist.”

In its 39 years, Station 22 has undertaken hundreds of rescue operations, both big and small.

“A recent rescue that stands out was the recovery operation for the devastating Jukskei River flash flood in December, where 30 people were swept downstream,” says Jake.

Four NSRI stations, including Station 22, joined the City of Johannesburg’s rescue efforts; of the 18 missing persons, only four survived, making the operation a search for bodies rather than survivors. “Although it's always terrible to do such a recovery, the thing that stood out for me most was the companionship and care each of the rescue teams had, and the ability to work with someone who has no idea who you are, but from start to finish all rescue personnel became family and worked exceptionally well together.”

river rescue

Like Jake, deputy station commander Bradley Naicker feels rescue work is his calling. “I’ve always been drawn to it. As a teen, I became a lifeguard at my local public pool, and later qualified as a paramedic. In my day job as an electrical engineer, the opportunity arose to train as a firefighter, so I have that background as well. Truly, though, I had always wanted to join the US Coast Guard, but when I found out that there was something similar in South Africa called the NSRI, well, I was always going to join, wasn’t I?”

Naicker signed up to the Station 22 crew in 2019, and swiftly racked up training hours, which took him from crew medic to deputy station commander and training officer. “The training is excellent, and it doesn’t just qualify you to save lives; it improves all areas of life. The leadership training, listening skills, how to handle conflict… I use them in my work and my relationships.”

Witnessing and facilitating the growth of the team, and the life-changing influence that the responsibilities of rescue work has on crew members, is all the reward Jake could ask for. “This work makes people stronger, it builds them up to be their best.”

On the other hand, there are plenty of challenges to being a leader, not least the juggling act of balancing his responsibilities at the station with those at his work and home: “It's a three-way path; if one aspect doesn't receive enough attention, it affects the others.”

puppy

What does the future hold? Hopefully, a station upgrade and new equipment, says Jake. “Our vision for Station 22 is bright. We plan on getting funding or sponsorships to upgrade our current station to accommodate a training facility. Our crew has expanded hugely in the last year, and new recruits are joining weekly. By the end of the year, we plan to have five new qualified coxswains and five new swift water technicians to assist in the new flooding environment we are facing. This will all aid in helping to train our new volunteers and to grow our station.”


If you would like to make a donation towards the upgrading of Station 22, contact station22@searescue.org.za. If you would like assistance to organise a fundraising event in aid of Station 22 upgrades, or any other NSRI community fundraising project, contact Renée Leeuwner at renee@searescue.org.za.





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