They are quiet heroes: volunteers in the lifeboat and mountain rescue services who give freely of their time, put their lives at risk and contribute to the safety of the public. Their involvement, along with that of lifeguards on beaches, is regarded as normal. Their advice on necessary safety precautions is frequently ignored by careless or over-confident individuals. But their generosity of spirit and unswerving contribution to safety and social cohesion are matters for celebration.
The dramatic rescue of 23 teenagers from the Dutch tall ship Astrid, when she ran aground near Kinsale last month, generated headlines around the world. The contribution made by volunteers from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is not always so high profile, but it is consistent. Last Monday eight children were rescued from Sligo Bay when their dinghies capsized. Call-outs in June and July saved many more yachtsmen, fishermen and inshore water-users. In the same way, on-going activities by mountain rescue teams and first aid organisations only receive extensive publicity in special circumstances. But safety at major hill walking, religious and sporting events depend to a large extent on their expertise and generous commitment.
Irish people have enjoyed one of the sunniest and warmest summer periods of recent years. Beaches and inland waterways became crowded as families took advantage of the fine weather. Bad behaviour and a dangerous lack of safety awareness placed lifeguards and others under pressure. In particular, Irish Water Safety complained that parents were not taking responsibility for the safety of their children and were using lifeguards as “babysitters”. During the month of July, apart from preventing more than 500 fatalities through drowning, lifeguards reunited a similar number of lost children with their parents. Such a lack of personal responsibility and safety awareness is deeply troubling. It threatens the lives of those directly involved and it increases the prospect of injury for volunteer and other services.