Chiswick RNLI: View from the Tideway

By Jan Harris, Education Volunteer

Did you know that the crews of the Chiswick Lifeboat station, many of whom are volunteers, are on duty 24/7 to rescue people whose lives may be in danger in the River Thames?

But there are other volunteers like me who support them in their work – Education Volunteers – whose job is to work with other Water Safety teams to teach children and young people how to stay safe in and around the river. We work closely with schools, youth and community groups to achieve this.

I started as a volunteer about six years ago after I retired from being a primary school teacher. It was the perfect way for me to continue to use my skills as a teacher, and having the pleasure of working with children again. We have owned a narrowboat for over 30 years so I have always been interested in water safety, and more recently we bought a houseboat which we now live on in Brentford. We regularly take trips on our boat on the tidal Thames so understand the particular challenges of cold, fast-flowing currents and the need to respect the water.

Pre-Covid I used to visit schools and community groups to talk about safety. On other occasions the children visited the lifeboat station and the Lifeboats Visits Officer Jen Martin, another RNLI volunteer, organised the visits.

Recently we have started to welcome children and visitors back to the lifeboat station again although with measures in place to ensure everyone’s safety.

Images above: Chiswick Lifeboat volunteers explaining the ‘SAFE’ acronym, Chiswick Lifeboat volunteer speaking to children

My role is to talk about the dangers of the tidal river – strong currents, underwater debris, very cold water (even on the hottest day!) and to give the key Water Safety messages:

·      STOP AND THINK (what are the dangers and how to avoid them)

·      STAY TOGETHER (always go with a friend or family member so they can call for help)

·      FLOAT TO LIVE  (Float on your back with arms and legs spread in a star shape to combat the effects of Cold Water Shock and then SHOUT FOR HELP)

·      CALL 999 AND ASK FOR THE LONDON COASTGUARD (if you see someone in danger)

First the children meet the crew dressed in their full uniform – ready to respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice. After my talk, the fun really starts!

Then they get to see the lifeboat (an E Class) and are able to ask the crew questions about the boat and inevitably ‘Which is the most difficult rescue you’ve ever done?’

Image above: Chiswick RNLI volunteers demonstrate first aid on one of their lifeboats

And then the best bit of all – the crew throw ‘Dead Fred’, a training dummy, into the water and demonstrate how to rescue him with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, with the children screaming ‘Help!’ and pointing at him to show his position in the water.

I am sure they will remember this experience for many years!

I was once asked by a seven year old:

“Do you think there will ever come a time when no-one will need to be rescued by the RNLI?”

Our hope is that through education we could eventually achieve that aim, although accidents will always happen despite our best efforts.

As a final thought, I hope  that I have played a small part in preventing incidents happening by making children aware of how easily things can go wrong and what to do in an emergency. I am sure the image of ‘Dead Fred’ will stay in their minds forever as a reminder of that day at Chiswick Lifeboat Station.

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