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Merseyside History.  Mersey Inshore Rescue.

SINCE 1984 the River Mersey on the banks of Liverpool has been a safer place thanks to a professional rescue service that patrols the waters 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Mersey Inshore Rescue team is the only full time unit working in the UK, not even the Thames has such a service.

Established in 1984 their principal reason for being is to be able to respond to an air disaster at Liverpool Airport. The main runway of the airport points towards the river and the local emergency planning authorities have long considered the possibility of an airliner having to ditch into the water. 

Their base, at Liverpool's pier head, is some 8 miles down river from the airport and the crew must be able to respond to a crash scene from anywhere within 14 minutes. To enable them to do this they have one of the most powerful launches ever seen on the Mersey, a twin engine 175 hp rib boat.

It was custom built for the service in 1986 and can reach speeds of up to 52 knots with a range of 130 nautical miles. It's control panel looks like something from the old Apollo space missions with it's depth sounders, GPS satellite tracking system and its myriad of compartments hiding the most amazing array of equipment. Everything from charts to body bags are stored on board, ready for any and every challenge to be thrown at them.

The boat, an Avon Searider, is 7.5 metres long has 7 safety chambers and can amazingly carry a total of 20 people. And it goes without saying that it is able to survive the most savage of seas.

Unlike their illustrious colleagues in the other emergency services the MIR guys work in sparse and sometimes cramped conditions. They work 4 at a time in little more than 2 adjoining portakabins on the Liverpool waterfront, in the shadow of the famous Liver Building.

They often work in the most atrocious of conditions in one of the world's most dangerous stretches of water. Often called out in weather that can uproot trees, when temperatures hover close to freezing and where waves are so high that you can't see past them.

They respond to situations that no other emergency service is equipped to deal with and on average are with immersed casualties within 3 minutes. In freezing conditions this fast response is vital. As well as advanced powerboat pilots they are all qualified life support technicians, and are often stabilizing victims well before the other services are in a position to respond. On a river where a body can be carried 10 miles in one hour their role has been proved essential time and time again. In 1999 alone they recovered more than 35 people from the river.

But their role doesn't just involve people. Last years statistics show that they helped more than 30 vessels, rescued 4 jet skiers, dealt with 2 pollution incidents, removed 21 hazards to shipping, rescued 6 animals and recovered one hot air balloon stranded on a sand bank.
Andy Fell, the Senior Station Officer, explains, "We get to deal with all sorts of things, some serious, some not so. No two days are ever the same and when you start on shift you never know just what that day is going to entail. It could be the recovery of a suicide victim or it could be towing driftwood out of shipping lanes."

It is paramount that we are available 24 hours a day because you never know when we will be needed. There is no pattern to emergencies, they can happen at any time of the day or night, winter or summer. In fact one of the most dangerous rescues that we attempt is getting people out of the mud banks"

Indeed this particular operation is very dangerous. At low tide the banks of the river become exposed, leaving large areas of deep mud and silt. At various points along the river old structures remain buried below its surface. Anyone falling in sinks quickly. Broken bones and shock await the lucky ones who survive the 40 ft fall.

To rescue the casualties or even recover the bodies of others, the guys have to leave the boat and wade through it at immense risk to themselves. Sometimes the mud can be elbow deep and the crew need to carry life saving equipment and stretchers with them. Quite often this sort of rescue happens at night in total darkness. Usually late night revelers relieving themselves into the river or suicide cases.

The procedures are well rehearsed. The person wading across has first to discard all of their own safety equipment including their life jacket while the second man stays with the boat. Once across the first thing they have to do is diagnose the condition of the casualty before attempting any stabilization.

Kenny Scott, one of the Inshore crew, got his first mud rescue while Granada TV were filming a documentary on the service. The story is best told in his own words, "We received a call at around 2 am saying that a woman had jumped from the wall at the Pier Head and was in the water. When we got there we realised that she had actually fallen about 30 ft into deep mud. We knew from experience that access to that particular area would be extremely difficult but we didn't have any choice but to go in and try to reach her. There were a large number of scaffold poles and pieces of metal stuck in the mud and we were only able to get around 60 metres away before we had to anchor the boat. This meant I had to leave the boat and wade across to her. Initially the water was up to my neck but it fell away the further in I got. After that I had to contend with the mud which is very unforgiving. Unless you are very careful you can quickly find yourself in all sorts of trouble."

When I reached her she was face down in the mud and unconscious. I couldn't move her because she might have had serious head or spinal injuries, but I was able to dig around her face to free her airways. As I was doing this she started to come around. We eventually got her onto a spinal board and the Fire Brigade craned the woman to safety. When I got back to base I was cold, muddy and absolutely exhausted. I had been in the mud for about one hour and it felt like I had run a marathon!"

The woman survived but only because this service exists.

Surprisingly for such an important organisation they do not come under the jurisdiction of any other body. They exist as a registered charity, relying on donations from local companies and individuals for their very existence. The boat alone costs over 40,000 per year just to keep afloat and with salaries and overheads as well, the guys have to do a lot of fund-raising.

Recently Jaguar Cars in Halewood offered financial support to the service and in return the boat has now been branded with the famous big cat logo and renamed the "Mersey Jaguar ".

Graham Farrell, a spokesman for the Inshore Rescue Service commented on their involvement, "The service is totally reliant on donations for it's very survival, so as part of our ongoing fund-raising activities we approached Jaguar with a view for support. They were only too happy to get involved and made a generous donation. Good relationships have been built up with the company and this is part of a continuing support programme that will see both organisations benefiting from the connection."

The Mersey Inshore Rescue service is a registered charity relying on public and corporate support for our existence. A donation, however small, will help save lives on the River Mersey. 

To make a donation please call us on (0151) 236 1186 or send a cheque (made payable to Mersey Inshore Rescue) to:-

Mersey Inshore Rescue Service
Princes Stage
Pier Head
L3 1DP

Photographs taken by Patrick Trollope BA(Hons) LBPPA. 

Mersey Reporter and Liverpool Reporter are Trade Marks of Patrick Trollope.   Copyright Patrick Trollope 2004