Three volunteers from the RNLI Flood Rescue Team were announced this morning as winners of the Pride of Britain Emergency Services Award.
They were recognised for their part in the rescue of a woman clinging to a branch in fast-flowing flood waters in Umberleigh, Devon on 23 December 2012.
Boat Team Leader Paul Eastment, Helmsman Chris Missen, and Crew Member Martin Blaker-Rowe, will be officially given the award at a ceremony in London on Monday 7 October. The three volunteers formed part of the wider team including Bernie Mannings (Shore Crew), Jason Dunlop (Driver) and Robin Goodlad (Flood Response Manager).
The Flood Rescue Team were nominated for the award by Vanessa Glover, the woman rescued by the team.
She said to Daybreak: ‘They know how proud of them I am of them and how very grateful I am to be alive. I’m so grateful for this showcasing and nomination. They are volunteers, and they had driven 150miles to rescue me. They rescued me, risked their own lives and drove home again.’
The rescue took place in the early hours of 23 December at Umberleigh where the river Taw had reached 3.5 metres above its normal range. Mother-of-one, Vanessa Glover had been swept from her car after it was forced off a road by powerful flood water, leaving her husband and seven-year-old son clinging to the car roof. She had managed to catch hold of a branch but a rescue helicopter was over an hour away and initial rescue attempts were unsuccessful. With no other options available, the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team decided to launch.
The situation was particularly dangerous: the team was unfamiliar with the area, it was dark, the flood waters were moving at 12 knots and carrying debris. A bridge a few hundred metres downstream also posed a significant risk – anything, including a boat, could be sucked beneath it with the force of the water. If there was a mechanical failure, or if the engine was struck by debris, caught on an unseen hazard, or at worst the boat capsized, the consequences could be disastrous. To add to this, the water level was still rising and conditions deteriorating as heavy rain continued to fall.
At 1.51am the RNLI Flood Rescue Team launched their modified Arancia rescue boat with Chris Missen at the helm. Boat team leader Paul Eastment and crew member Martin Blaker-Rowe worked together to look for debris coming downstream and guide Chris along the safest route to the casualty.
Chris expertly manoeuvred the boat in the darkness with only the crew’s head torches and a small spotlight for help. Meanwhile the police helicopter was hovering over the spot where Mrs Glover clung to the branch, using their spotlight to indicate her location to the boat crew below.
Chris carefully directed the boat just downstream of Mrs Glover, where maintaining a steady position in such conditions was extremely difficult. Martin and Paul reached for Mrs Glover and immediately started to pull her into the boat. She was extremely cold, and it is unlikely she would have been physically able to hold onto the branch for much longer. There was no time or space to get Mrs Glover into a comfortable position and Chris retraced his steps out into the flow and upstream. At 1.57am Mrs Glover was successfully recovered to the shore, assessed and given first aid treatment. She had been in the water for 50 minutes.
The Flood Rescue Team will officially receive the award at a ceremony on Monday night, which will be broadcast on ITV1 at 8pm on Tuesday 8 October.