Lifesavers complete intensive training

Andrew Gillies (left) and Darren Johnson.

Andrew Gillies (left) and Darren Johnson.

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TWO rookie lifeboat volunteers have completed a specialist training course to help them save lives at sea.

Darren Johnson, 26, and Andrew Gillies, 30, underwent a rigorous week-long programme to learn essential firefighting, sea survival and rescue skills.

The pair, who are based at Sunderland RNLI, also faced navigation tasks and rehearsed emergency drills, such as capsize procedures.

Andrew, an optometrist at Specsavers, and Darren, an emergency care worker for the North East Ambulance Service, have been part of the charity’s sea-going crew for more than nine months.

They had to attend the course at the Lifeboat College, in Poole, Dorset, as part of their one-year training programme to ensure they are able to take to the waves for search and rescue missions.

Andrew said: “Darren and I both joined the RNLI with no previous maritime experience, so training of this quality and intensity is essential to allow us to carry out our role as a lifeboat crew member.

“Our lifeboats often go to sea when others are heading for the safety of the harbour, so it is essential that we learn how to look after ourselves, as well the skills required to carry out the job of saving lives at sea.”

The Lifeboat College, which was opened in 2003, is equipped with an integrated survival centre, full-size lifeboat simulator engine workshop and a wave tank.

But it costs the Wearside station £20,000 to provide essential training for its 20-strong crew.

Last year, Northumbrian Water presented the RNLI with a cheque for more than £7,000, the latest in a series of donations from the utility company.

The firm, which has supported the charity since 2004 through its Care for Safety Challenge, has so-far donated £44,268 to the Sunderland station.

Martin Andrew, lifeboat operations manager at Sunderland RNLI, said: “As less than 10percent of our operational volunteers join the charity with a professional sea-faring background, training of this type is essential to allow our volunteers to operate safely and effectively.

“This level and quality of training does not come cheap, so we are extremely grateful to Northumbrian Water for funding the course for Andrew and Darren.

“Successfully completing this course will be stepping stone to both volunteers going on save many lives during their RNLI career.”

@SunEchoJohnston