What it’s like to be part of Birling Gap Coastguard

Photo by Ginny Sanderson
Photo by Ginny Sanderson

We hear all the time how amazing the emergency services are – but the Coastguard are sometimes overlooked.

The Birling Gap and Eastbourne teams battle formidable weather, treacherous terrain, and work day and night to help people.

L-R: Derek Christie, Peter Wojcieckowskj, Jamie Evans, Adrian Harrison, Graham Easton, Nigel Woolley

L-R: Derek Christie, Peter Wojcieckowskj, Jamie Evans, Adrian Harrison, Graham Easton, Nigel Woolley

Many are volunteers who, at the drop of the hat, are prepared to rush to save someone in trouble.

They work in one of the busiest locations on the South Coast and even the country – and some people don’t even know what it is they do.

The Herald went to one of the Birling Gap training sessions to get a taste of what it is like being a Coastguard.

The team prepared a cliff rescue next to the café with a 60ft drop.

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans

The sun was just beginning to set on some breathtaking views of the rolling South Downs as Adrian Harrison, a rope rescue technician, dangled from the edge, supported by a series of ropes, a frame, and his fully-trained team.

Edge safety operatives provided support from the cliff edge while line tenders oversaw his main and safety lines and the officer in charge made sure everything was going smoothly.

The goal was to rescue a ‘casualty’ at the foot of the cliff, and Adrian was lowered with a stretcher down the drop which – in this job – could be the dizzying 500ft heights at Beachy Head.

Back at the station, we spoke to Jamie Evans, the newest recruit who says the team is his second family.

Photo by Ginny Sanderson

Photo by Ginny Sanderson

The coastguard rescue officer, who lives in Eastbourne and has been working for six months, said,“I am enjoying it 100 per cent. It’s the fact you are doing something good. It’s not every day you get to do a job like this so, it’s definitely rewarding.

“It’s good when you get to bring people back to safety, and that’s what we do.”

The 26-year-old explained why he decided to sign up, “I wanted to do something good, something different. I’m self employed so in my spare time I get a lot of time at home so being able to respond to something like this so quick and having a lot of time to do that helps me out, it keeps me busy.

“You get a lot of good qualifications on it as well. The Maritime and Coastguard isn’t always an easy job to get into so this definitely helps with that.

Photo by Ginny Sanderson

Photo by Ginny Sanderson

“If you want excitement, join. If you want to help people, join, if you’re looking to fill your spare time, join.

“Just get out there and do it. You’re working on the countryside of Beachy Head, Birling Gap, Newhaven, Seaford, Eastbourne. They’re views you don’t get to work on everyday.”

Meanwhile at Birling Gap, Adrian had ‘rescued’ the casualty and was readying for his ascent. Bitter winds began to bite as the team carefully hauled him back up.

The Herald also spoke to station officer Peter Wojciechowskyj, who has been with the Coastguard for 21 and a half years.

The 62-year-old explained why he’s stuck around for such a long time, “I just enjoy it. We have a laugh and we’re like a family. We do a job and afterwards we go for a drink and it’s a way of life, well it is now!

“We tend to be the busiest teams on the South Coast, pretty much. We’re on 55 jobs this year. It gives something back to the community. We’re a good bunch down here, we have a laugh, take the mick.

Photo by Ginny Sanderson

Photo by Ginny Sanderson

“Generally it’s a good thing to do. Everybody who joins it seems to like it and stay.”

Peter said people tend to not realise what it is the Coastguard does, and that it is not the same as the RNLI. He said, “A lot of members of the public don’t realise we’re two different things. They’ll say to us, ‘been out on the boat lately?’ No – we haven’t got one!”

The Coastguard performs water rescues from dry land, as well as mud rescues, cliff rescues, and first aid. Teams search along the coast and on land for missing people and work together alongside helicopters and lifeboat teams.

Now they are looking for new people to sign up. Graham Easton has been a senior coastal operations officer for six years, with 10 years experience under his belt as a volunteer.

He said the part he most enjoys about the job is the people, “The volunteers are a great bunch of people and they give up their time to be there for people.

“The amount of things they have to do, it’s amazing how professional they are and the amount of commitment they have. It’s satisfying when you are able to help people as well. I think we do make a difference.”

Graham explained that the good parts of the job far outweigh the bad. He said, “Even with the bad ones you get satisfaction in a least you are able to bring a loved one back to their family.

“Even if it is someone that is unfortunately deceased. You know you are doing a service to the community.”

If you are interested in joining contact Graham on area8@mcga.gov.uk

If you see someone in trouble at the coast, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.