You couldn’t do this work if you didn’t love it, if you didn’t care. It’s not a ca­reer choice — it’s a vo­ca­tion”

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - ‘YOU NEED TO HAVE THE COURAGE’

He re­mem­bers meet­ing a woman whose son went miss­ing some years ago.

“She wanted to walk in the last place he walked. I met her and I took her to where he would have walked. I said ‘you do what­ever you want to do. If you want to talk, talk. That was two years ago and she keeps in touch. An­other lady lost a daugh­ter — she likes to come up on the an­niver­sary to walk in the last place her daugh­ter walked.”

Music, walk­ing and talk­ing help Thomas to re­main up­beat about life but he says it’s al­ways “a bit of a downer when some­one es­capes the net”.

“I did the Dark­ness into Light last year and I feel like you’re help­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that’s help­ing peo­ple. You watch peo­ple and they’re ten foot tall — they feel like they’ve achieved some­thing,” he says.

Over 200 miles away, vol­un­teers Pat Car­lin and Stephen Twells are on duty in Foyle Search and Res­cue (FSR) HQ on the banks of Lough Foyle.

Set up in 1993 the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s main pri­or­ity is sui­cide pre­ven­tion and river res­cue as well as pro­vid­ing safety cover for river events run by the city coun­cil and other lo­cal bod­ies.

Last year FSR vol­un­teers res­cued 21 peo­ple who had en­tered the river de­lib­er­ately and were in­volved in 129 in­ter­ven­tions.

Stephen, a store man­ager with Boots chemist in the city, joined the or­gan­i­sa­tion 17 years ago af­ter he got chat­ting with vol­un­teers about the work they did. He de­scribes the res­cue HQ as his sec­ond home. “You couldn’t do this work if you didn’t love it, if you didn’t care. It’s not a ca­reer choice —

it’s a vo­ca­tion,” he says.

“For vol­un­teers on duty at night it can be trau­matic and stress­ful when you’re deal­ing with some­one in a vul­ner­a­ble state. But the ben­e­fits out­weigh the draw­backs — you’re help­ing some­one at their low­est level,” says Stephen.

“You have an in­stinct about a per­son you meet — some­times you can tell from their body lan­guage. Some­times they’re avoid­ing eye con­tact which is un­nat­u­ral. You just get a gut feel­ing

that some­thing is not right with this per­son,” he says.

One of the hard­est things, he says, is hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one you’ve never met be­fore and ask­ing them are they think­ing about tak­ing their own life.

“You need to have the courage to say that. Some­times a per­son will say ‘yes, I am’. Some­times they’ll say no.

Most peo­ple will open up to us but that’s only be­cause we’ve taken the time to ask them. A lot of times no one has ever asked them,” he says.

Stephen says some­times the work means phys­i­cally re­strain­ing some­one un­til emer­gency ser­vices ar­rive. Some­times it’s pulling some­one back but “some­times it’s just a mat­ter of put­ting a hand gen­tly on their shoul­der. Three-quar­ters of the time it’s an easy coax to gen­tly take some­one back,” he says.

In the last 15 months ten peo­ple

have lost their lives to the River Foyle but de­spite the na­ture of the work he does, Stephen says it’s not all doom and gloom.

“There’s a re­ally good team spirit in here. The main thing that keeps us go­ing is that we know we’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. There’s a lot of team-work and train­ing and we have a laugh. When it gets se­ri­ous, we get on with the job.”

Do­nate to Pi­eta House at Pi­

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