last year was a very difficult year for the volunteer crews of Kinghorn RNLI Lifeboat, which had to deal with four fatalities from a relatively quiet 45 call outs.
But it was also a very rewarding one as its members helped to save many more lives from the waters of the Forth Estuary.
The fatalities included two divers who lost their lives in separate incidents in the Levenmouth area early last year, a kayaker off Granton in October and December’s tragic incident when a toddler was washed out to sea from Kirkcaldy Esplanade.
“This was an unusually high number of fatalities as we can often go for several years without having any,” explained crew member and press officer Neil Chalmers. “It was traumatic for our volunteers, but there is a strong support system in place, including counsellors, and we all have each other to talk to.”
However, the crews also helped save many lives, including that of a sailor who was taken ill on board a ship in April. It transpired that he had suffered a brain haemorrhage and the timely arrival of the lifeboat crew to transport him to hospital had a happy outcome, with him making a full recovery.
In September they helped rescue three kayakers off Port Seton who capsized and were drifting out to sea, and in the same month they helped rescue a pensioner who had fallen off the pier at West Wemyss.
As the volunteers explained, the rewards of the “job” far outweigh the huge amount of time and effort they put in week in, week out in all weathers and at all times of the day and night.
“People only hear about a fraction of the work we do when we are called out to a rescue, but that is only about 10 per cent of what goes into being a lifeboat volunteer,” explained Megan Davidson (20), a second year law student at Glasgow University.
“On top of that we have regular training exercises, preparation work, cleaning up, station duties and visits from groups, and it is a huge part of all of our lives.”
Megan, whose mum Liz is Kinghorn lifeboat’s depute launching authority and training co-ordinator, has been a member of the crew for three years and says that she knew she wanted to join from a very early age.
“I used to come down regularly with my mum and pester everyone to be involved in whatever was going on. I was never in any doubt I wanted to become a volunteer, and did so as soon as I could.”
Megan did her year’s probation, shadowing the more experienced members while undergoing basic training before a rigorous week long training at the RNLI’s Poole headquarters.
And during the last year the volunteers’ extensive ongoing training has involved everything from first aid to survival techniques, navigation and radio operation to radar.
Neil Chalmers explained that the Kinghorn station is in the lucky position of having a healthy number of volunteers at present, with 20 crew, six tractor drivers to help launch and bring in the boat and a management committee including launch authorities.
“It is just like a big extended family and everyone looks after everyone else,” he said.
“We have a diverse range of people from housewives and police officers to students and marine pilots and our ages range from 17 to 50-odd and people usually stay for quite a while, although there is always a turnover with people leaving the area for jobs or education, getting married and having family, so we are always keen to welcome new volunteers.”