Family’s 100 Years of Saving Lives at Sea Continues with Dunbar’s Newest Recruit
A family tradition of saving lives at sea stretching back over 100 years has continued with Jodi Fairbairn joining Dunbar RNLI lifeboat crew.
Jodi, 17, becomes the third member of the Fairbairn family on the Dunbar crew – following dad Gary, who is the lifeboat coxswain, and older brother Kieran, 20.
But her family’s connection to Dunbar lifeboat dates back to the 1900s, when her great-great-great grandfather Walter Fairbairn served as coxswain and was awarded a medal for bravery.
Jodi, an early years support worker, said: “I grew up around the lifeboat and know about the family history and I’m very proud to have joined the crew.”
Jodi was Dunbar Lifeboat Queen at the charity’s annual fete in 2019 and she added: “From a young age I watched as my dad responded to the pager going off and from my bedroom window I used to see the lifeboat head out on rescues. I’ve loved representing the RNLI, from being a flower girl, queen’s attendant and then lifeboat queen. Now, it’s exciting to have joined the crew for real.
“It’s a challenge learning all the skills needed to be a lifeboat volunteer but I am enjoying it so far.”
Jodi – who joined the crew as a probationer in December – recently experienced her first ‘shout’, an early morning call to help search for a potential missing person.
She said: “The pagers went off at 4.45am so it was a fright and I was nervous but it was amazing to get on my first shout.”
Fortunately, the individual on that occasion was located safe and well but for coxswain dad Gary, 52, it was an early test of his daughter’s character.
He said: “I did have a moment, when I saw her in the wheelhouse, and we still didn’t know what we were going to be facing. It could have been a very different outcome and I wondered how she was going to handle it.
“But, as with my son Kieran, I will treat her like any new volunteer. I have to pick the crew based on the nature of the callout, the weather and sea conditions and the experience of the crew available.”
Gary has another consideration, however – his wife Emma’s reaction should anything happen to their children on a shout!
Gary said: “Emma used to say, ‘if anything happens to my boy don’t bother coming back!’ Now she’s saying it for both Kieran and Jodi. I think Emma’s already had enough of all the pagers going off when there’s a shout!
“But, seriously, we are proud and it’s great that Jodi and Kieran have joined the crew – as they are the future.
“I always knew Jodi would want to join as soon as she was old enough because she has always shown an interest in the lifeboat, coming to events with us, wanting to be on the boat.”
And, joking aside, Gary says he would have no qualms about taking both children to sea – should it be necessary.
He said: “It used to be that coxswains wouldn’t take more than one family member on a shout, particularly if it was a rough sea but the advances in safety, with regards the lifeboat and the equipment the volunteers have to keep them safe, mean we are 150% better protected than we were, say, 30 years ago. The training the crew gets now as well means they are better prepared for what they might face and the support is there if they do have a bad experience.
“As coxswain, though, I always have to weigh up what are we going out for and what experience I need. I have to protect my crew, whether they are family or not.”
Jodi will serve on Dunbar station’s two lifeboats – the all-weather (ALB) and the D-class inshore (ILB) – the latest in a long and illustrious line of lifesavers. 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. And, 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.
Jodi said: “I learned about my great-great-great grandfather when I was younger. It’s nice to be able to carry on the family tradition.”
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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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.
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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries
Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.