21 May 2022

WATCH: A night on patrol with 'Limerick’s everyday heroes'

EVERY day as Limerick people go about their normal business, a hardy band of volunteers stand ready to be called on in the event of trouble on the river.

For the last 34 years, the unsung heroes of Limerick Marine Search and Rescue (LMSR) have helped keep the people of Limerick safe in unpredictable waters.

Based in Atlas Avenue (just off the Dock Road) and with a jetty near Poor Man’s Kilkee, some 22 people are on call at all times during the week.

Whether it is rescuing people from the river, providing support to events – or in one case, recovering a collapsed Christmas tree from the Shannon, the group are never found wanting.

In a bid to the work the group does, members of the group got together last week to staged a rescue from the water.

While Limerick people sat outside pubs enjoying their evening meals, the group – which included in its number Mayor Michael Collins, and metropolitan leader Sarah Kiely – witnessed the lengths at which LMSR go to provide support on the Shannon.

Eoghan Lavin, a nurse by day, and the group’s public relations officer by night, said: “We are called out to a variety of incidents. Anyone on the river who may be in crisis. It could be someone at the edge of the river, or someone who has made it into the river. We would work along with the fire brigade and the suicide prevention patrols if they came across a person in crisis too.”

Volunteering for such a vital service is not for everyone – and in order to be fully fledged, there is a variety of tough tests one needs to pass including mastering the use of a VHF radio, coxing, first aid and much more.

There is also the small matter of being available at the drop of a hat, with LMSR included in the emergency services response, which means they can be called out at any time to provide support.

“You’d be lying in bed at night, and you’d get the zap on your pager, your heart would drop and you’d get in as soon as possible,” Eoghan explains.

As one can imagine, recovering bodies from the river can be emotionally challenging, Eoghan adding that members are there to support one another.

“We make sure to debrief after everything. We talk it out if there is anything we would have done differently. We have a GP service if we need to attend, and there’s a psychiatrist we can talk to. In terms of the worst side of things, it is the body recovery. It does represent closure for a family though,” he said.

There are many experienced volunteers in LMSR, and with that comes a familiarity, and almost an emotional immunity to traumatic situations.

But there are always certain rescues which stay with volunteers.

Davy Finn, who chars the organisation recalls an incident 15 years ago when they assisted the fire service to remove a man who had been in the Shannon for three months.

”It remains with you,” he said, “The smell sticks with you.”

Another member recalls rescuing a youngster, and remembering down to the number of buttons he had on his shirt.

People from all walks of life volunteer with LMSR – from members of An Garda Siochana, to electricians, environmental consultants, metal fabricators, nurses and paramedics.

Davy joined the group through his brother in law.

“When I was living down in Clare there was a suicide there. When I heard about search and rescue through my brother-in-law, I had to get involved. There was nothing down in Clare all those years back. I just felt this is such an important service to be a part of,” he said.

As well as the emotional safety of volunteers, their physical safety remains paramount, with rescues often taking place in inclement conditions with ‘zero visibility’.

A variety of dangerous items can be found under the waters of the Shannon – shopping trolleys, old bikes, and even reinforced steel, a legacy of some of the construction work which has taken place on the riverside across the last 20 years.

Cllr Sarah Kiely hailed LMSR volunteers as “everyday heroes”.

“They work not just for rescue but also for recovery, a difficult part of any job, but unfortunately very necessary. We owe them a huge debt and the people of Limerick are really grateful for them,” she told the Limerick Leader. 

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