We took reporter Alex O’Leary out for a trip up the Tees earlier this week and today he has published his article.
Have a read here: https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/hidden-dangers-pitch-black-searches-24189118?utm_source=linkCopy&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sharebar
Alex on his ride-along with Tees River Rescue volunteers Rob and Jay (Image: Teessidelive)
You’ve heard of a ride-along… but have you heard of a float-along?
One of the major teams helping keep people safe on Teesside other than the emergency services is the Tees River Rescue Team, who is an independent charity that provides education, support, and reassurance. We decided to have a ‘float along’ to experience what it’s like to work as a member of the team and to hear about the impact the charity has on our region.
My boat ride was led by volunteers Rob Lynas, 42, and Jay Marrison, 46, who work for the charity in their spare time. Rob, who has worked as a special constable for 15 years, and Jay, who is the director of a countryside management business, both opened up about how the team operates and some of their experiences on the Tees.
The Tees River Rescue Team was founded back in January 2020, but sadly the timing of the pandemic meant the team had bought a boat they couldn’t even use. The team is made up of 12 volunteers and features people with all types of jobs ranging from police officers to businessmen to paramedics.
When I got on board the Adjutor, which is named after the patron saint of drowning victims and boaters, I was told that the boat had been on the Tees for over a decade. While the river has a 5mph speed limit, the volunteers gave me a taste of what it’s like to travel in an emergency, and at roughly 25 mph, we flew away from the Tees Barrage.
And if I thought that felt fast, I wonder what it would feel like on the team’s new boat, which Rob says will hopefully launch “within the next few weeks” and will travel up to an impressive 40mph when in an emergency.
It “stays in your mind”
As Rob, Jay, and the team have to deal with a variety of incidents varying in severity, sometimes individual experiences stick in the mind. Rob said although the team has searched for a lot of missing people, it’s those who are vulnerable that “stays in your mind.”
He said: “On one of the first call-outs from the police, the team was lucky enough to find a missing woman. It was a multi-agency response in July last year.”
Rob also recalled a statistic that is something that reminds him of just how dangerous water can be: “46% of people who drown in rivers predominantly never intended to enter the water. The [Tees River Rescue Team] are that added bit of help that prevents these things.”
Jay said one of the reasons the charity began was because emergency services simply “don’t have the resources” to patrol and search the river, as well as educate those on the risks of cold water. He said: “In March this year, it was sunny but cold, and there were some kids swimming in the river. We went over in an educating way to just say don’t get too deep and don’t leave anyone in the water.”
Rob added: “We predominantly do peak times, like when it’s really sunny. We volunteer often when we can – as we are all volunteers, we all have day jobs. We go on about three or four patrols a week.
Never a ‘typical day’
I asked the duo what a typical day out on the Tees would involve and they said: “We drive up the river, stick to the speed limit, and keep our eyes open.”
It’s not just water rescue and educating that the team does either, as they often find themselves involved in various types of tasks. They said they even put fires out and do litter picking in the water. Rob added: “We just look after the river. It is the jewel in the crown of Teesside that we’ve forgotten about.”
Jay mentioned a story when a woman was sinking in an inflatable kayak and they had to swoop in and rescue her near Yarm: “She was in a kayak and it was deflating. She got off next to Yarm School but she couldn’t get out, so we came and gave her a hand back to her car.” Jay said it would typically take the team about 30 minutes at “full pelt” in an emergency to get to Yarm from the Tees Barrage.
The duo said they’d come across many bizarre things when floating up and down the river, one of which being a time when they had to avert their eyes as they saw a group of “skinny dippers.” As every day can be different, one minute the team could be calmly floating along the river and the next travelling at full speed in a rescue operation.
Hidden dangers and pitch-black searches
At one point in my journey, Rob showed me the system that scans the river bed below the team. At that moment, it was 11.5m deep, showing just how dangerous the water can be when swimming in. Jay said that Preston Park in particular was dangerous, where the river is around 18m deep in some places.
On my float along it was quite a warm day, with no bad weather. However, Jay and Rob both said driving at night is really a challenge, and that they’ve sometimes had to rescue people in thunderstorms. Jay explained: “It can be like driving at night with the lights off. But try that on the water! One time we even had someone using a torch low down for light.”
The boat does have a searchlight, which Rob said was even donated to the team by a resident who lives nearby the river. One addition to the team’s boat is a rugged tablet and stand, which is supplied by Conker and is used to help bring up photos of missing people during a search to make identification easier.
Not always seen… but there to help
While you may not have heard of the Tees River Rescue Team, they’ve likely been at an event you’ve attended in the last few weeks. Some of the places they’ve volunteered at include The Killers concert at The Riverside Stadium and Jubilee events such as the Stockton Riverside party and the big paddle at Yarm.
While the duo has to deal with some serious at times scary incidents, they say they enjoy the times they sail along the river, checking in on people and making sure everything is well along the Tees. Rob said: “It’s nice and relaxing at times – we get to wave at people!”
As the team is publicly funded, it means they rely on the support of Teessiders to keep the charity going, and to keep everyone safe along the river. Jay and Rob said the team is “well supported by the public” and has received a number of generous donations, but is always looking for more funding.
Jay mentioned how the Borocuda swim school is currently preparing for a source-to-sea expedition along the entire River Tees, where James and Mikey are set to walk, swim, canoe, paddleboard, and cycle (to name a few) across the region to raise funds for the charity. To donate to Borocuda’s expedition to raise awareness of water safety, you can visit their GoFundMe page here.