TIRELESS pensioner Fred Roberts has been honoured for dedicating 40 years to helping save lives at sea.
The retired crane driver was first introduced to the Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade (SVLB) by a workmate.
After joining in 1971, he quickly rose to the rank of deputy captain and helping to lead a major programme of reorganisation, recruitment and retraining, which transformed the brigade into a vital coastal search-and-rescue service.
Now, in honour of his dedication, the 71-year-old, from Whitburn, has been handed a long-service award at a special presentation.
“I’ve had to work hard for it at times, but I’ve never regretted one minute of my time with the SVLB,” said Fred. “It’s been a fantastic experience and I’d like to thank all the people I’ve worked with over the years for their support. They have been amazing.”
Fred also helped the brigade, which was formed in 1877, overcome near bankruptcy in 1993.
Together with wife Rose, who was enlisted as treasurer and fundraiser, the dad-of-two managed to boost its coffers, even arranging the purchase of a new rescue vehicle in 2008.
“It was a real team effort to get through that,” he said. “We had a lot of support from the community and businesses.”
Fred, who has seen brigade membership numbers rise dramatically from 20 to 70, said he always aimed to keep the SVLB up-to-date and on a par with the Coastguard.
The brigade trains members in recognised qualifications in First Aid, defibrillation and radio operation and now has teams dedicated to cliff rescue coast-watch as well as its museum and fund-raising.
Fred, who is now a senior captain of the brigade and managing director, said: “I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. There is a lot more to do now. We have taken on a lot more duties and it’s changing all of the time. I’ll keep helping out for as long as I can.”
Graham Hall, chairman of the SVLB, said that it was typical of Fred’s “modest and unassuming” nature that he refused to recognise that it was because of his “leadership qualities and sheer hard work” that the brigade was today a modern, 21st century service.
“It is unbelievable that someone has spent over 40 years helping other people,” he said. “It is not just a case of going out when called by the Coastguard, but also the training, twice a week, and all the background work that goes into making the SVLB what it is.
“Fred works every day for the SVLB and will always have a role to play in the brigade. He has without doubt gave phenomenal service and epitomises the true meaning of a community volunteer.”