MarineWatch volunteers are lifesavers
On a mild night last week with just a hint of rain in the air, a group of MarineWatch volunteers, impossible to miss in their high-viz yellow vests and orange life jackets, patrolled on the bridge and quayfront in Wexford.
The sight is now a familiar one that most local passers-by take for granted but behind the reassuring presence of these quietly vigilant watchers is an extraordinary story of success in the community battle against suicide.
Up to December 2012 when the organisation was set up by Frank Flanagan, scarcely a month went by in Wexford without news of someone attempting to take their own life by entering Wexford Harbour, usually from the bridge. Tragically, many of them succeeded, leaving distraught families waiting for bodies to be recovered.
But since MarineWatch started, not one life has been lost through suicide in the harbour. In the past three years, volunteers have dealt with 194 incidents of which 79 are classed as interventions in which people intended to self-harm.
The organisation relies solely on the work of volunteers along with fundraising donations from individuals and groups to cover the cost of vehicles, equipment and training. When it comes to financial support, the people of Wexford have never been found wanting.
There are 84 volunteers on the books with each person required to commit to a minimum of one night a month with weekend patrols lasting about five hours. More volunteers are always needed to extend the nights and hours of the service. Suicide prevention and awareness training (QPR - question, persuade, refer) is provided and ongoing exercises are organised in association with the RNLI, the Coastguard and Garda
'We don't like advertise the exact times we are here because we don't want people to know when we're here and when we're not here but there are always patrols on weekend nights and then a number of nights during the week, depending on what is going on', said volunteer supervisor Deirdre Murphy who joined in 2014 along with her husband after someone close to them died through suicide.
Patrols take place every week of the year with volunteers braving rain and hail and an extra icy wind chill factor off the bridge during winter months.
'The bridge is the priority because that is where most incidents take place but we also patrol along the quayfront and out to the arm,' said Deirdre.
How to recognise that someone is in distress and how to approach and speak to them, is a key part of the training.
'Every situation is different. The training helps you to recognise that. Some people are prepared to talk, some not so much. You adapt your training to the situation and the person,' she said.
'When you come out you have to be prepared for any eventuality,' said Deirdre who has been involved in a number of intervention incidents. 'You have to be very aware at all times. You could have a very quiet night and then all of a sudden something happens. The training is very beneficial when you do have to respond to an incident. There is also help for volunteers afterwards, if they need it.'
Survivors and the families of people who have been saved, have thanked MarineWatch for their efforts. 'We do get feedback from the people we have helped,' said Deirdre.
'For me as a volunteer, it's a great organisation to be involved in because people really appreciate what it does and it's run so well from the top down.
'Everything is done to perfection,' she said.
'There is a lot of goodwill out there towards MarineWatch. You would be very proud to be part of something that is so worthwhile and so successful. You'd never regret it,' said Deirdre.
'I think people feel safer when we are here,' said Jane, another volunteer who joined 'to give something back'. 'I see people out walking their dogs at 2am.'