NSRI volunteer risks life to save others

2015-08-21 11:34
Cheryl Gibson Dicks is a volunteer rescue swimmer for the National Sea Rescue Institute.

Cheryl Gibson Dicks is a volunteer rescue swimmer for the National Sea Rescue Institute. (MONIQUE BASSON)

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“TO save a life is one of the best feelings in the world. They get to live another day, have another birthday and be with family.”

Cheryl Gibson-Dicks is a volunteer rescue swimmer for the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Station 31, Jeffreys Bay and will risk her life in a split second to rescue a stranger in need.

After six years of watching the crew members of the local NSRI train every Sunday afternoon, Cheryl, who loves swimming, decided to join them a year ago.

“It goes without saying that I love the sea and the opportunity to train with such a dynamic and committed team,” says Cheryl. “Drowning must be one of the most awful ways to die. It happens within seconds. It must be terrifying to think you are going to drown. By joining the NSRI I am not only able to improve my own swimming skills, but also help save lives.

“I also assist with body recovering. It is emotionally draining and extremely difficult to talk about, but it is part of the job. The family members of the victim can get closure when the body is returned and they are able to bury their loved one.

“As a rescue swimmer, there are some you can save, and some you can’t. One can never get used to it when a life is lost, but it is the reality of the job.”

Cheryl says: “We are subjected to a rigid training programme that enables us to deal with a wide variety of emergencies. No two rescues are ever the same. Being able to have the knowledge and ability to manage rescue scenarios and apply resources in different scenarios are very satisfying. We all undergo two fitness assessments a year - you must be able to run at a certain speed and swim a certain distance. The more you practise, the better you get.

“You must be able to stay calm, responsible, committed and most important of all, trust your crew members. The coxswain’s word is law. You do not question him, you just do as he instructs.”

According to Cheryl, you learn a lot about yourself and teamwork. “You cannot do it alone. It is important to remember that you are not doing it for yourself.”

When asked if there are any additional challenges she faces as a woman in the emergency services, she answered with a firm no. “It is not more difficult being a woman at the NSRI. I do not expect any special treatment just because I am of the opposite sex. Just like any new volunteer, I had to fit in with the male structure and earn the respect of the crew members,” says Cheryl.

What advice does she have for residents who are considering joining the NSRI as a volunteer? “Take the time to do the necessary research and be sure it is what you want to do. Be prepared to learn, be disciplined and take orders and criticism. Make an effort to keep physically fit, so that you are always a strong and active part of your crew. And be prepared to clean toilets and clean the base.”

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