Saving Lives Runs in the Family as Kieran Becomes Scotland’s Youngest Crewmember
DUNBAR schoolboy Kieran Fairbairn has just become Scotland’s youngest RNLI lifeboat volunteer crewmember.
Kieran – the son of Dunbar Lifeboat coxswain Gary Fairbairn – has received his pager a month after turning 17, the youngest age anyone can join the crew.
The Dunbar Grammar School pupil is now on call to respond to any life-saving emergencies – even if it means racing from the classroom.
Kieran has begun his training and will serve on Dunbar station’s two lifeboats – the all-weather (ALB) and the D-class inshore (ILB). And he has big boots to fill – as both his dad and great-great-great grandfather were awarded medals for bravery after daring rescues at sea.
Kieran said: “Lifeboats have been in my family since forever. I’ve grown up around it, I’ve been a herald for Dunbar’s Lifeboat Day celebrations and I used to watch my dad going off on rescues from our window. Now it feels fantastic to have the pager and be part of the crew myself. And it’s great to be able to give something back to the community I live in.”
Kieran is in his final year at high school, studying for Higher and National 5 qualifications, but he might have to put his school work on hold should the pagers go off while he’s in class. He said: “My teachers have given me special dispensation to be out of class. I might have to wait a while before I get my first shout but I hope, with the training I have to do, when the time comes I’ll be ready.”
Although lifeboats have been in the Fairbairn family’s blood, Gary, 48, says it wasn’t a given that his son would follow in his footsteps.
The fulltime coxswain and volunteer for 23 years said: “It came as a shock to me, to be honest, when he asked to join. I had asked him if he was interested in the past but he never showed much enthusiasm. I wasn’t going to push him. It always had to be up to him.
“And we are very grateful to have the understanding and cooperation of his teachers at Dunbar Grammar School. We thank them for being very supportive.”
Gary hopes Kieran’s involvement might inspire others from his generation to join up. “We are always looking for volunteers – particularly for our D-class inshore lifeboat. Kieran’s generation will be the future of this station. That’s the way it’s always been – the older hands passing on their know-how to the next generation.”
And Gary says that when it comes to his son there will be no favouritism. He said: “Nothing will change. Whatever the shout and whatever the emergency I have to pick the best crew available for the job in hand. But at Dunbar, every volunteer gets their chance to be involved on our shouts.”
The Fairbairn name is so synonymous with saving lives at sea in Dunbar the town named a street in their honour. Gary was awarded the bronze medal – and his crew medal certificates – for bravery after the rescue in May 2009 of a couple from their stricken yacht in force 9 winds and 10m waves. Over a hundred years before, in 1905, Walter Fairbairn was awarded the silver medal for helping save the lives of 40 men in a seagoing yacht that had run adrift. Gary’s dad, David, also served on the crew in the 1980s.
And although Gary is proud to see Kieran maintaining the connection, he said there were times the job really brought home to him the importance of family.
He said: “Some jobs have been so rough I’ve kept the details from my family and one job sticks in my memory because we were tasked to a boy who’d fallen from cliffs who was the same age as Kieran. I immediately thought, ‘that could have been him’. Will it be at the back of my mind, that I’m potentially taking my son into a dangerous situation? Of course. In the old days multiple family members were not permitted on shouts in case of loss, but today the boats are a lot safer, and sometimes it can pay to have someone you know well alongside you. My brother-in-law Kenny Peters was my mechanic here on many rescues – including the yacht episode – and it felt he knew exactly what I was thinking. But that concern will always be at the back of my mind.”
And it might not be long before there’s a third Fairbairn on the crew. Gary added: “My daughter Jodi, who’s 14 just now, is also desperate to join!”
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.