Busy festive season for Foyle Search and Rescue

Foyle Search volunteers patrolling the river.
Foyle Search volunteers patrolling the river.

There will be very little rest during Christmas period for those fantastic volunteers who represent Derry’s Foyle Search & Rescue Service, so says Colm O’Neill, the organisation’s Operations Officer for the past five years.

And, just like any other year, he and his colleagues, will be on call for the duration of the entire festive period.

Unfortunately, Mr. O’Neill confirmed that the local organisation had been called upon over recent years.

“Last year we were not called out on either Christmas Day or St. Stephen’s Day, however, the following day we had one incident to deal with.

“We’ve also experienced years where we’ve carried out searches over the Christmas period for people who had gone missing at that time.”

While agreeing it was a huge commitment, Mr. O’Neill said every volunteer was fully aware of what they signed up for.

“It’s all part and parcel of the job. We are a 24/7 service operating 365 days a year,” he said.

“I think when you choose to volunteer, there’s an understanding that you must be prepared to work over the Christmas period, it’s something you simply have to be prepared to do.”

He explained that the organisation has to ensure that there is extra manpower available to cover the festive season.

“We would usually have a minimum of four people on call, but during December there’s always more.

“Typically, we want to have enough people to man two boats and also cover the shore.”

Mr. O’Neill said that it can be difficult time for so many local people.

“Family times like Christmas can be strenuous. There’s a lot of pressure on people, both emotionally and financially.

So you have to have that expectation of possibly being called upon.

“Obviously, it’s impossible to predict what’s going through people’s minds aduring Christmas time and that’s why we must always plan for cover.”

With a wife and three children at home, the Operations Officer admitted that his Christmas Day was be restricted in some ways.

“You can’t enjoy it the same as everyone else. For example, you have to be able to drive so you can’t drink.

“And as my mother lives in Magherafelt, my family can’t visit her until after the Christmas period.”

Reflecting on the past year, Mr O’Neill believes there is still so much work to be done.

“Suicide is a very big issue in Derry. You have periods that tend to be busy and periods when it can be quiet.

“There are times when you think that it’s brilliant and then, all of a sudden, it gets crazy again. So, particularly over Christmas, we are very aware of potential situations.”

With an application period closing at the beginning of December, Mr. O’Neill said they were always actively looking for new faces.

“There will be another recruitment drive in the summertime and we would hope to see more applicants.”