Belfast Telegraph

Insurance mix-up and flashing lights ban hit rescue unit

By Brendan McDaid

A rescue service which has stopped 2,000 people going into the River Foyle has warned lives will be lost after they were ordered not to use flashing lights during emergencies.

Foyle Search and Rescue (FSR) volunteers have also been left shocked after finding out that their private vehicles, which they use to reach rescue boats and people on the fast-flowing river’s edge, are not insured by police.

The charity had been under the impression that they were fully covered by insurance from the PSNI and that their use of white flashing lights was legal. The double hammer blow is already impacting on the service, with one rescue yesterday taking twice as long as it would have previously.

Adrian Boyd, boat co-ordinator and a member of FSR’s management committee, said that changes in legislation were now necessary to save lives.

He said: “We have always used white flashing lights on the front of our vehicles to cut through traffic, and if we cannot do this then it takes us longer.

“People in the city know to get out of the way when they see the lights, they know it is a rescue. Police cars have actually pulled aside to let us pass.”

PSNI chiefs have confirmed that FSR staff are only insured personally for the charity work they do but not for the vehicles they use — despite volunteers being paged to emergencies by the PSNI.

Mr Boyd said volunteers were left stunned by the revelations.

A PSNI spokesman said it held Foyle Search & Rescue in “high regard” and described their volunteers as “invaluable”.

He added: “Unfortunately there has been a misunderstanding around insurance cover. As an act of goodwill we will contribute towards the insurance of official Foyle Search and Rescue vehicles. Unfortunately, this cannot extend to volunteers’ private vehicles.”

Foyle Sinn Fein Assemblyman Raymond McCartney yesterday wrote to Justice Minister David Ford requesting meetings to resolve the issue.

Story so far

Since the Foyle Search and Rescue service was set up by friends bereaved through suicide in 1993, volunteers have pulled 245 people from the River Foyle’s deadly currents — 16 so far this year alone. Another 64 people have been brought back from the water’s edge since January. A total of 2,000 people have been prevented from entering the River Foyle over the past 18 years.

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