Doing the double at RNLI Ilfracombe
The latest Station Mechanic, Matt Parr, trains up at very fast speed.
With longstanding station mechanic, Leigh Hanks, retiring and the increase in his workplace that had taken place since he took on the role in 2010, two Station Mechanics are being appointed to replace him. The first is Stuart Carpenter who is moving sideway from being Systems Technician for the past year and the second is Matt Parr, a former assessor and trainer and a relative newcomer to the station. Both are now working hard to ensure that the station has a smooth transition.
Stuart has been with the RNLI lifeboats for more than 30 years having joined as shore crew when he was 16. He has trained as boat crew, mechanic and launch tractor driver and became coxswain of the all-weather lifeboat last year.
His new colleague, Matt, is equally well-qualified but has done it at turbo speed. Having joined in January 2018, Matt has completed an incredible 271 assessed training units in the past five years
“I had always wanted the challenge of joining the lifeboats”, he remembers, “but work life and family life meant that it never seemed to be the right time. One day, my wife and I were driving past the lifeboat station when she stopped the car and told me to get out and sign up with them, as she was getting fed up with me going on about it!” Having joined, he threw himself into it, training for pretty much every role the station has to offer volunteer crew. Starting as shore crew, he trained to be crew on both the lifeboats, he trained to be tractor driver, head launcher, mechanic and navigator.
Last week, he completed a feat the RNLI has rarely seen before – he completed the assessments for both helm of the inshore lifeboat and coxswain of the all-weather lifeboat in just one afternoon. He describes it as “a mad, tough day” but he is now qualified to lead shouts on both of Ilfracombe’s lifeboats. His wife and young children watched it all proudly from the beach.
And within a week of qualifying, Matt was out on his first shout as coxswain on the All-weather lifeboat. The Coastguard had asked for assistance in finding an emergency tracking beacon. These are carried by boats and emit a signal should the boat need assistance. The Ilfracombe lifeboat searched a long stretch of the coast, with the Appledore lifeboat with helicopter assistance doing a similar search on a different stretch. Fortunately, the search team was able to stand down when no boat in distress was found and Matt could return to the station with his first shout as coxswain complete.
Stuart and Matt being both so well-qualified at the various roles of the shore and boat crew will stand them in good stead for their key role as station mechanics – managing the station’s diverse team of volunteers.
“Our biggest challenge,” he says, “Is how we manage the volunteer crew we have. I want to keep everyone happy but also manage expectations so we are all realistic about what happens here while also recognising just how important what we do really is. There was a shout last year which really brought it home to me. We pulled an angler out of the water when he had been swept in by a large wave. That act saved his life and his wife said to me just how much that meant to the family, to still have him. Those words stay with me and remind me just how important this all is.”
“What I want from this job”, Matt says, “is to see this station house buzzing, with a lively positive atmosphere. That is how together we can meet the challenges that face us”.
The lifeboat station is not simply somewhere to store boats, it is a meeting place for the many volunteers – shore crew, boat crew of course, but also the ‘backroom’ volunteers who each do their bit to save lives at sea – through committee work, fundraising, press, events, the shop and everything else.
And sometimes it is not just about the training and experience - Stuart and Matt made sure that they started their first day in the station in the best way possible. The kettle was on and they brought with them a huge stock of biscuits ready for every volunteer that pops in.
Best of luck in your new roles Matt and Stu!
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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