Super Savers – The Irish Coastguard still flies high as they celebrate 200 years of saving and protecting lives

With a fleet of helicopters and boats and a team of highly trained staff and volunteers, the Irish Coast Guard (ICG) is the epitome of a thoroughly modern rescue service.

o It may come as a surprise that it is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

A memorial service will be held on September 8th at the Greenore Coast Guard Unit in Co Louth to mark the occasion.

Invited guests include Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister of State for the Irish Coastguard Hildegarde Naughton.

It will shed light on the important work the ICG is doing to save and protect lives on our shores – as with 80 full-time employees and nearly 1,000 volunteers, the nationwide team provides a 24/7 search and rescue service.

Established in 1822, it responds to more than 2,600 dispatches per year, saving an average of 400 lives annually thanks to its response to incidents at sea and on land. It also supports the National Ambulance Service.

With three rescue coordination centers in Dublin, Valentia and Malin Head, four helicopter bases in Dublin, Shannon, Sligo and Waterford and 44 Coastguard Units (CGUs) across the country, the Irish Coastguard is a vital element of emergency services – and those who volunteer their time helping to save the lives of others are critical to success.

Anita Gallagher is one of those selfless heroes. She works as a teacher in Co Mayo and has been a volunteer at Achill CGU for 16 years.

An experienced lifeboat helmsman and cliff climbing instructor, she has been involved in many rescues since taking on the role, but says there is one in particular that stands out as it happened just before Christmas a few years ago, when two visitors attended Ireland lost themselves in the fog on a mountainside.

She received an alert at 8:30 p.m. and along with her Coast Guard colleagues, the National Ambulance Service, Mayo Mountain Rescue and An Garda Síochána, a major rescue operation began.

I was at the station and as the guys were going to the jeeps, a call came from a volunteer saying they found a bomb

Volunteers from various ministries “went out of their homes and families to come and help this pre-Christmas weekend,” she says.

“I kept in touch with the ladies on the phone but their phones were running out of battery power – so a combination of navigational skills, awareness of the conditions and local knowledge led to their safe extrication from a dangerous location. It was a really good example of collaboration between the different search and rescue agencies,” said Ms Gallagher.

The rescued women didn’t have booked accommodation as they were on a day trip to the area, so she invited them to her home, where they enlisted warmth, hospitality and a couple of hot toddies to help them enjoy the experience to process. It was a tough save, but luckily it ended well.

“Night temperatures this week were very low and the result could have been very different,” she says.

His fellow volunteer Peter Larkin, CEO of Health and Sports Technology Ltd, has been helping the local Coast Guard in Co Louth for 40 years. He entered the service at the age of 13 and has also been involved in many rescue operations – some of which were more than a little different.

“One dark winter night we trained with a waterline search at a local beach in very bad conditions and although we were wet and miserable the event went well,” he said.

“I was at the station and as the guys were going to the jeeps, a call came from a volunteer saying they found a bomb.

“After reporting it to the MRCC, we set up a 1km cordon and waited for the bomb squad. We stayed in position until the early hours until it was disarmed and removed. It was long and cold but there was a good result, everyone returned home safely and we’re still laughing about it.”

The Irish Coastguard, which began with simple rescue equipment such as buoys, ladders and horse-drawn carts, has changed beyond recognition in terms of capability and range, but over the last 200 years their ethos has remained the same.

According to a spokesman for the service, Coast Guard units act as the Coast Guard’s “eyes and ears” to any coastal incident and are also equipped to conduct coastal searches, drone searches and cliff rescues, relying on skill, goodwill and bravery its employees and volunteers.

“The Irish Coastguard remains committed to providing world-class search and rescue, marine casualty and pollution response as one of the four main rescue services,” she says.

“Throughout its 200-year history, it has always been best placed to fulfill this mission statement through its employees – whether professional full-time employees, competent external staff or highly committed volunteers.

“She takes pride in providing her search and rescue service, both nationally and locally, and looks forward to another 200 years.” Super Savers – The Irish Coastguard still flies high as they celebrate 200 years of saving and protecting lives

Fry Electronics Team

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