Coastguards are all men, right? Wrong. While the fourth emergency service is still widely considered to be a male preserve, in fact women are as much a part of the teams – and it is hoped more will join.
Although still somewhat in the minority currently, perhaps from a mistaken belief that it is a “man’s world”, there is one female member of the Porthleven team, one in Porthoustock and three in Portscatho.
Among them is Natalie Williams, who has been a member of Porthleven’s coastguard team for more than three years.
Natalie, who works at Helston Community College, told the Packet: “I have to say that I feel treated as an equal, definitely. It’s something I look forward to every week.
“It was the Penlee Lifeboat disaster that inspired me, many years ago. I’m from Porthleven and was at school when that was going on.
“When I was little there was a chap called Pincher Martin, with a Land Rover that used to go screaming over Porthleven’s Harbour Head. I was about eight and I thought, ‘One day I’m going to do something like that’.”
Natalie realised her ambition in May 2009 when she got a place on the Porthleven team. Days later, however, it seemed her dream would be ripped away before it had even begun, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The team, led by station officer Brian Spicer, saw potential however and held Natalie’s place while she received treatment.
“I still used to come when I could, when I was in recovery. It actually got me on more – I was more determined to get back into it,” she said.
Twelve months later she was back raring to go and since then has been working her way through the levels of training.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “They treat me no differently and I’ll have a go at everything they do, within my qualification.”
The coastguard teams are all made up of volunteers, who drop everything when a coastal emergency comes in.
While lifeboats patrol the water and search and rescue helicopters from RNAS Culdrose work in the air, it is the coastguards who are responsible for the shore side searches – often lowering themselves over sheer drops and cliff edges to rescue casualties.
Sector controller Marc Thomas said the role was one that could be performed equally well by men and women – who brought their own specific benefits.
“We could do with more,” he said. “Certainly every team should have at least one – they bring different skills.
“They’re very good with speaking to family members who might be upset or distressed, casualties who are injured; they can be very caring and empathise.”
The coastguard service is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 65 to join. People will need to fill in an application form and complete fitness tests, with a good knowledge of the local area a definite advantage.
Having a flexible job is also a bonus, with the stations always looking for a cross section of people.
In Porthleven the team includes a farmer, an architect, a cameraman and a self-employed builder.
Their skills were called into play over the festive season, when they were called out on many occasions due to the stormy weather – including keeping people safe while watching the waves.
Natalie said: “We are trained and we know what we’re talking about, keeping safe. It’s great to go and watch the waves and the sea, but do it from a safe distance and listen to us when we give advice.”
She added that there was a good atmosphere in Porthleven and everyone respected their authority – although Marc added that in Newquay 16 fixed penalty notices were issued by police to people ignoring the emergency services.