Legends lend a hand

2014-05-20 00:00

DURBAN’S rugby legends have stepped in to “rescue” Durban’s elite volunteer rescue unit — whose bank account was recently down to R3 000, and whose hero members are having to buy their own equipment.

Next week, ex-Springbok Gary Teichmann, John Allan, coach Ian McIntosh and commentator Hugh Bladen will front a public breakfast to raise funds for Rescuetech — the group of civilians who saved lives in three recent falls down Kloof Gorge, including an escaped prisoner, and who retrieved the bodies at the Tongaat Mall collapse.

A major Springbok figure, who can’t be named due to his status as a “surprise guest”, will also join the panel for the event at Greyville Racecourse next week, entitled, “All things Rugby — Highlighting the Springbok Saga”.

Meanwhile, Teichmann has also donated emergency accessories — like bullbars and lights — for a new vehicle that the “high angle” rescue group will launch next month.

A unique outfit in South Africa — whose rescues range from trapped motorists to distressed animals and paramedic assistance — the core group of nine members is currently seeking to expand, with three would-be rescuers currently being trained.

Like true-life Batman figures, its members are full-time suburban businesspeople who carry elaborate rescue harnesses, medical equipment and flight suits in their car boots, and have responded from board meetings, and from deep sleep, to save lives in KZN’s most difficult-to-access places.

Former fireman Mark Basson, who now works for an engineering firm, was the rescuer who recovered the body of Zakithi Nxumalo from beneath tangled concrete at the Tongaat Mall. In 2012, Basson leapt into a moving truck in Pine­town as it was pelted with rocks from violent strikers, to stop it from ramming traffic.

Jon Sargood, a senior Durban flight instructor and chairperson of Rescuetech, said, “I remember getting a call-out as I was about to collect a mate from the airport, and had to turn around and leave him there. Our guys have abandoned family picnics on the beach; business meetings; you name it. It looks very glamorous — and there is great reward in saving someone’s life — but you tend to end up covered in mud, and hoping for a couple of hours’ sleep.”

Each of the potential new members will require at least R15 000-worth of equipment, including harnesses and flight suits — but even its current members are short of kit.

Sargood said, “We just don’t have the equipment or the finances, we were down to two or three thousand rand earlier this year. All of our members have full-time jobs and are strictly volunteers, but they have to buy their own boots, flight suits, helmets, gloves and of course petrol, and that’s just the personal equipment. But the service they provide really makes a difference. In an economic environment where public sector resources are limited, volunteer organisations such as Rescuetech are playing an increasingly important role.”

Sargood said he was “extremely grateful” for the support of Durban’s rugby royalty.

While SAPS and the Mountain Club have high angle rescue capabilities, Rescuetech is often “first on scene” at complex emergencies, according to community policing sources — and has relied on sponsorships for the past two years of its existence.

“The lack of red tape and cumbersome control room procedures allows us to react almost immediately and be on the scene within minutes.”

The breakfast event is being hosted by Durban Aviation — a leading Durban flight school that has helped co-ordinate air support to some of the group’s rescues.

Ricky Smit, spokesperson for the flight school, said, “It’s [all about] that ‘golden hour’ after an accident that can mean the difference between life and death, and having access to aviation assistance, be it helicopter or fixed wing, does save lives.

“These guys are amazing, which is what these rugby legends recognise. Rescuetech needs all the support they can get because of the peace of mind [of having] an organisation out there that can reach remote areas,” she said.

•Tickets for the All Things Rugby fundraising breakfast — costing R300 per person or R3 000 per table — are available through Ricky Smit at Ricky­smit@mweb.co.za, or 083 231 6458.

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