Photo gallery: The Norfolk rescue team appealing for help
They’re the hidden heroes who lend a hand in times of crisis – but who now need others to come to their aid.
Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (Norlsar) provides vital support to the emergency services, rescuing people during floods and reuniting missing people with their families.
Its team of volunteers turn out at all hours and in all weathers to work hand-in-hand with police officers and fire crews.
But they rely on donations to keep the group running, and are facing a £2,000 bill for a specialist rescue sled to replace their battered boat, which members paid for out of their own pockets.
On Saturday, Norlsar’s water team were braving the freezing water at Horstead Mill to brush up on their water rescue skills – one of three training sessions a month for members.
The water team has been developed alongside Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, and recently became the first lowland team to be named on the national Flood Rescue Register.
“Getting the new sled would open up a host of new things we could do,” said chairman Paul Chamberlain.
“We are looking to grow the service we can offer, and having a sled would enable us to help many more people when there are floods.
“Maintaining our service costs around £10,000 a year, but we want to improve what we provide.”
Norlsar’s 40-plus volunteers combine the rescue skills of firefighters with some of the detection skills of a police officer – but an attention to detail is the biggest asset for members, said vice-chairman Paul Webber.
“If you’re thinking of doing this job for the adrenaline rush, then forget it,” he said.
“You have to be very patient. There are no blue lights, there are no high-speed chases.”
The foot search team is trained in tracking, and accompany police officers in the hunt for missing people – most callouts involve over-65s, under-16s or people with mental health issues.
A mud scuff on a country gate, footsteps in the dew or a few blades of grass lying the wrong way can all be vital clues to help get them back to their families sooner.
“We look for the signs that someone may have passed there,” said Mr Webber.
“Everyone can track someone in the snow, but we are also trained to notice other signs – where lush vegetation has been disturbed, or a foot has squashed something and it hasn’t bounced back. We get trained not just to look, but to see, process and analyse.”
The team has had five call-outs since the turn of the year, and been put on standby eight times for missing people. But inevitably there are times when the searchers do not reach someone in time.
Guided by police and mental health service profiling, the teams are warned before they set out whether the person they are searching for may be suicidal or they are likely to find a body.
“Volunteers are then given the chance to opt out. We don’t judge,” said Mr Webber. “We search with the same intensity regardless of who we are looking for. We get trauma support from the police, but everybody reacts differently. Quite often you don’t know how you’ll react until it happens.”
Norlsar’s main rescue activity is in support of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service – usually during floods.
“The typical scenario for us is helping people from their homes or transporting them down flooded high streets,” said Mr Webber.
Wherever they are assisting the emergency services, ensuring their skills are up to scratch is key so members regularly give up their weekends for training sessions.
“We have to maintain that professional level – if we go anywhere not properly equipped or trained, we are no use to anybody,” said Mr Webber.
Norlsar’s varied team includes people from many different backgrounds. The only requirement for the foot team is that you can walk around five miles in two hours.
“We have people who are doctors, nurses, teachers, in insurance, people who are unemployed,” said Mr Webber. “We have a very broad cross-section, but we are always looking for more.”
To find out more, go to www.norlsar.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org