Equipped only with a deep conviction that things had to change, 25 years ago a group of local people came together following the latest in a succession tragic drowning deaths in Derry.
Together they set up Foyle Search & Rescue and those at the helm back in 1993 could barely have dreamt that a quarter of century on, the foundation they laid would result in hundreds of people being rescued from the river, and thousands of life-saving interventions.
As the charity marked its 25 years milestone during its recent annual general meeting, chairman Stephen Twells paid tribute to the generosity of local people who have been instrumental in supporting FS&R and ensuring its survival over the years.
Looking back over the 12 months to April, Mr. Twells said: “As April 2017 approached, we were in the midst of searches, which continued for most of the year as, sadly, seven people lost their lives to the river.
“During this time we worked diligently to develop new operational protocols, both internally ourselves as well as an effective community response plan with all of our statutory partners, who would be involved directly with the repercussions of someone being lost in the river.”
Mr. Twells said the past year has brought more new faces, bringing new skills and ways of thinking,with recruitment something FS&R plan to continue on a rolling basis.
Other highlights include working closely with City Centre Initiative and local wardens to install 12 more lifebelts with new housing, thanks to investment from the Public Health Agency.
Mr. Twells thanked local people, funders and private contributors, who ensured the charity was able to invest in new equipment and projects, including a new specialist boat, a new emergency response car, two more jet skis and a drone to aid with searches.
And as staff and volunteers look forward to being joined by local people at their Gala Ball , Mr. Twells added: “None of this would have been possible without the continued support of the public. This unwavering support is essential to ensuring that we maintain the high standards expected and I would like to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone for donations; emotional support and guidance as well as those who supported us in other ways such as businesses providing food on duty nights and training days and those who have organised fundraising events.”
Mr. Twells said all those at FS&R should be proud of the difference they continue to make at a time when, unfortunately, the number of interventions is rising. On average each year FS&R are now helping over 100 potentially suicidal people, proving that the charity remains a vital lifeline for the people of Derry and the north west today and into the future.