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Tower: The heart of London

It takes more than a crew member’s strength to pull a person to safety from the water. It takes the supportive arms of a community too, as Craig Burn, Commander at Tower RNLI, explains.

Tower E class lifeboat Hearn Medicine Chest

Photo: Laura Lewis

Tower E class lifeboat Hearn Medicine Chest

It was really early on Sunday 2 May and, after a night on duty at the lifeboat station, I was talking with my colleague, Emma. We’re a 24-hour station here at Tower, so we have full-time crew and volunteers on 12-hour shifts to make sure we can provide round-the-clock cover on the River Thames.

Emma and I were getting ready to hand over to the next crew when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a big splash. I thought: ‘We need to launch.’

We kitted up and I immediately called the Coastguard to let them know we were launching to a possible person in the water. And as we neared the spot where I’d seen the splash, Emma and I suddenly saw a young woman’s head, only just visible above the water.

Tower Commander Craig Burn

Photo: Tower RNLI

Craig Burn, Tower Commander 

There were lots of boats moored up, which made it difficult for us to get in close with the lifeboat, so Emma and I encouraged the woman to swim towards us – thankfully she did. When we pulled her onboard, she was very confused and very upset, so our lifeboat training really came into play. We knew we had to warm her up, reassure her and keep talking to her.

I’m a real advocate for mental health. I used to be part of the Police Force, and I’ve dealt with some really difficult situations and vulnerable people – so I meant it when I told her: ‘People care about you. I care about you.’ Even though we often don’t know the people we rescue, it’s true. You never want anybody to lose their life.

It’s really important to keep talking in these situations, so Emma and I ran through our plan of action with her.

We explained that we were all going to head back to the lifeboat station and get her some nice, clean clothes, then the ambulance would come and we’d all work together to get on the right path again.

When we got back to the station, Emma sat down with the woman and helped get her warm and dry and into fresh clothes, which were recently donated to us by our amazing supporters.

People often want to help one another, and there are so many practical ways to do that. If you can give someone clothes, you can give them their dignity. And if a person we rescue can arrive at the hospital in something comfortable, warm and dry, they have that chance to feel cared for.

Looking out for each other

Some rescues can be particularly traumatic for those we rescue - and for us on the crew. You don’t realise how much that can build up. At the RNLI we have a process called TRIM (Trauma Risk Management). I’ve done it before and it’s amazing. TRIM practitioners are trained professionals who help you process it.

Now the world’s opening up again, it’s getting busier on the river. That can feel daunting, but normality can be a good thing too. It means we’re able to train on the water again as a crew, run throwbag training sessions with bars and restaurants along the Thames, and interact with the community to share our safety messages.

For all of this, we have to thank our incredibly kind supporters because, without them, we couldn’t do any of it. It takes a very special kind of family to save lives on the water – one we’re all part of.

A deserving station

Tower Lifeboat Station on the River Thames

Photo: RNLI/Harrison Bates

Did you know Tower is the busiest lifeboat station, year-on-year? 

Since 2002, Tower lifeboat crew have launched over 8,300 times and saved over 300 lives on the River Thames. Now, almost 20 years later, their boathouse is no longer fit for purpose. Situated on the water, the station is bumpy, cramped and without dedicated space to perform casualty care in emergencies. These lifesavers deserve a comfortable station that can keep them saving lives in London for years to come. For Tower crew, and the grateful people they’ll rescue, it will be life changing. 

To find out more, or to make a donation to help fund the new station, visit our Tower Appeal page.