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
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
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
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
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
taken by Patrick Trollope BA(Hons) LBPPA.