Community Rescue Service carries out 20 searches since Christmas day with two in early hours of New Year
Heroics of volunteers praised
The Community Rescue Service (CRS) has carried out 20 search operations helping Northern Ireland's most vulnerable people since Christmas day - with two in the first few hours of the New Year.
Operating from hill to high water, the organisation is Northern Ireland's only low-land search team and is tasked with one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.
In partnership with police and emergency services, the CRS handles searches for high-risk, distressed people across five districts, working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, CRS regional commander Sean McCarry said they have handled 20 call-outs since Christmas day alone and two already in the first few hours of 2020.
"Because Northern Ireland has one of the highest suicides rates per head of population of any place in the western world, that means higher demand for us," he said.
"There are around 38 lowland rescue services across the UK and Ireland and we would be the busiest by far."
Since it was set up in 2007, the CRS has grown to an organisation that today has more than 200 search technicians and 70 support staff. It operates 26 boats and 24 vehicles across ten teams and is entirely voluntary-led.
Each search technician must undergo one year's training, in addition to three hours statutory training each week.
Sean, who has 40 years' experience in the search and rescue field, praised the dedication of the volunteers as incredible.
"It's a massive commitment, for each and every volunteer and their families. We've just sent them a New Year's message letting them know how valued and appreciated they are," he said.
"These people are dedicated, professional and heroic in the things they do. The commitment of the community out there is incredible.
"The support we get from the community as a whole is also amazing, there's not a place in the whole of Northern Ireland where we are not supported. That's why we're the Community Rescue Service - it's a very appropriate name for us."
The work of the CRS was highlighted last year in the acclaimed BBC NI documentary series The Search, which, due to its popularity, will be returning to TV screens this month.
Being a volunteer organisation, the CRS relies on donations, fundraising initiatives and sponsors in order to carry out its work.
Sean said every penny the service receives goes toward providing and maintaining the equipment needed for search operations.
"Funding is always a challenge, we use a lot of fuel and having the best equipment is essiential. Our equipment takes a battering out on calls," he said.
"Not one of our search technicians or staff are paid. Sometimes they're out there all day and night and they pay for their food out of their own pocket.
"When people are lying in bed sleeping or having their dinner, our guys and girls are out there saving lives and serving the community, doing work we can't publicise."
Belfast Telegraph Digital