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Landmark day for resort’s lifesaving heroes of the sea

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For a century and half its members have risked life and limb on the harsh waters off the Fylde coast in their relentless and dedicated pursuit to save those trapped among the waves.

Today marks 150 years since the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) established its station in Blackpool, which has seen crews launch from its shores hundreds of times to all manner of rescues.

During its time, the charity’s lifeboats in Blackpool have launched on 1,898 occasions and have rescued 625 people.

Whether their casualty finds themselves endangered through accident, stupidity or just pure bad luck – the lifeboatmen don’t discern.

The important thing is those threatened by the sheer awesome power of the sea are saved.

And for more than a fifth of its lifetime, Rowland Darbyshire has been involved with RNLI rescues taking place off our shores.

Rowland served as operations manager from the station’s Promenade base from 1979 until last year.

“It just amazes me how people have dedicated huge chunks of their life to be on the crew, sometimes at cost to their home life,” Rowland said.

“One minute you’re there, the next you’re dropping your knife and fork rushing down to the boathouse – and for people to do that year on year is quite remarkable.

“It’s always done with good will whatever the cause.

“If people are in danger through their own silly fault there are no recriminations and the crew are just glad to get them back alive.”

While crews fought wind, rain, hail, spray and waves of a height most of us would dread to contemplate during their most dangerous missions, Rowland was often ashore directing them – with worried friends, relatives and well wishers at his side praying for their loved ones’ safe return.

But to all involved, whether on land and sea, a sacred bond of brotherhood between these heroic volunteers has been passed down from their Victorian forebears.

Rowland added: “It’s like being part of a large family.

“I remember one crew member was diagnosed with cancer.

“He was talking to me about it and he told me his father once said to him, ‘If you can count true friends on the fingers of one hand you’re truly blessed, and we’ve got 20 of them on the lifeboat in Blackpool.’”

While that same spirit still remains from its founding days, the role carried out by RNLI Blackpool has evolved over time.

The first lifeboat station to be built in Blackpool cost £170, in sharp contrast to today’s station running costs which total £85,000 per year.

The number of calls for help has also changed significantly. In the first 100 years of the station’s existence there were an average of just two service calls per year.

Now it’s 64.

Colin Lowe, a crew member for the past 20 years, admits there is great admiration for those pioneering lifesavers of bygone days.

He said: “You look back and they had to row the big wooden lifeboat out through the surf.

“It must have been back breaking.

“It’s quite impressive really when you think of 150 years and how things have changed.”

Volunteers at RNLI Blackpool have been awarded six medals for gallantry, three silver and three bronze overall .

The most recent were awarded to Keith Horrocks and Phil Denham in 1988, in recognition of the courage, skill and determination they displayed when both inshore lifeboats were involved in the rescue of two people in very harsh seas.

Just reward for such bravery indeed.

So how does Colin, 41, see not just the future of the organisation, but his own future within it?

“I’ll be there till I can’t do it any more. It’s such a challenge and it’s exciting going out in the rough weather.”

While courageous men like Colin and his colleagues exists in this part of the world, the idea of RNLI Blackpool’s existence for another 150 years is surely not in doubt.

 

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