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Wednesday 20 September 2017

My life was saved by rescuers and now I try to do my bit, too

Lorraine Galvin (36), computer lecturer and RNLI volunteer, Wexford

Lorraine Galvin from RNLI Wexford. Photo: Mary Browne
Lorraine Galvin from RNLI Wexford. Photo: Mary Browne

The life-changing incident happened when Lorraine Galvin was 17. A strong swimmer who had volunteered as a lifeguard, she thought she was going to drown when the rowing boat she was racing in capsized.

"The fall into the water was so sudden and I panicked," she says. "It was a terrifying moment and luckily other people on the water were able to get to us in time. I was very shaken up by it."

That was in 1997, and the following year the RNLI established a lifeboat service in Wexford harbour. Galvin signed up for training immediately. "My life had been saved thanks to the quick actions of others and I was determined to do my bit, too."

Now one of the most senior members of crew, she helms the boat that responds to emergencies in the dangerous sea around Wexford and is involved in search and rescue missions in inland waterways. The job requires an intimate knowledge of currents and sandbanks, and an ability to remain calm in often very dangerous climactic conditions.

"We're constantly analysing the risks," she says. "You have to act quickly, but you don't do anything rash."

The birth of her daughter six years ago made her redouble her efforts to take the safest course of action when on a rescue mission.

The tragedy off the Mayo coast last week hit Lorraine Galvin hard. Like many search and rescue volunteers, she knew Dara Fitzpatrick well. "The Coast Guard helicopter means an awful lot to people in coastal communities. For us, as rescuers, it's always so assuring to know that they can get to us in 15 minutes in an emergency situation."

And yet, not for a moment did she countenance quitting rescue work. "It's part and parcel of my life now and it's a service that's needed more than ever because there are so many people using the water - and people who accidentally fall in."

Education helps, she insists. "When you fall into water you experience 'cold water shock' - the body goes into panic mode. It's what happened to me as a teenager. What I should have done was lay on my back and tried to breathe normally. I didn't know that then - but I do now."

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