Meet the search and rescue teams fighting to reunite people with their loved ones
PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 December 2019
NORLSAR is an entirely volunteer run, charitable organisation which covers the whole of Norfolk and works alongside the emergency services to help with rescue operations and searches for missing people.
On call 365 days a year, NORLSAR consists of around 50 highly-trained volunteers whose ages span from 21 to 72, and includes many who juggle full time jobs and families alongside training and volunteering.
We spoke to volunteers at their base in Wroxham about the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the role, and why they do what they do.
Jack Wiseman, 27, NORLSAR's vice chairman and water and technical response leader, who works as an access technician, has been involved in the organisation for around four years.
He said the most rewarding aspect of the role was finding people alive. "Recently we have had several positives, where we have found people alive, and knowing what happens to the person - that it's potentially going to change their life - [is very rewarding]," he said.
"But the flip side of that is probably the atmosphere in the team [when we] come across someone who isn't alive.
"We always think of it as a positive outcome if we find someone, alive or deceased, because we are bringing closure to the family."
In December 2017, members of NORLSAR spent 14 days helping to search for Sophie Smith who went missing in Gorleston, with many of them joining the search on Boxing Day.
Mr Wiseman said: "Even though the search was called off we do the best we can to help the family find closure.
"We're not looking for the lost hill walkers, we're looking for the people who are in a bad place and in a state of disorientation.
"We work alongside the emergency services - they are constantly getting stretched and we step in to support with specialist skills for finding people.
"Our motto is from hill to high water as that's where we normally operate. We work by being called by the police, fire or ambulance services but we mainly still search for missing people because that's what we've done for the last 20 years."
Nick Ball, 32, NORLSAR's medical lead who juggles volunteering with a full time role as a paramedic for the East of England Ambulance Trust said the most challenging aspect of his role in NORLSAR was time management.
"I look after the medical kit and training for NORLSAR and I'm also involved with a number of other organisations.
"The most rewarding thing is we have had a couple of searches that needed medical interventions and have had good outcomes, so delivering the skills and kit," he said.
Not just a team consisting of specially trained humans, NORLSAR also has dogs which are trained to find missing people.
Ian Danks, 41, a serving member of the Royal Air Force, and his dog Juno form NORLSAR's dog team. They completed two years worth of training in February this year.
Flight sergeant Mr Danks said: "It's really hard to balance the two roles and one of the fundamental elements is having the RAF as my employer.
"The RAF knows how me doing this would be viewed so the RAF is increasingly keen for people to help out in the local community, it brings benefits for both."
He said his beloved Juno was a highly trained dog.
He said: "Juno can find someone up to 250m up wind - the difference between Juno and other dogs is that other dogs might be able to find people but she can track the scent and bring it back to me and then take me to the person.
"We've been on 10 searches now and nine people have been found."
NORLSAR is a charitable organisation dependent on donations and grants to cover everything from medical supplies, to uniforms and fuel for boats and vehicles.
It is currently aiming to raise £4,000 for much-needed defibrillators and new medical kit.
To donate visit: virginmoneygiving.com/fund/NORLSAR. The group is also seeking £150 in sponsorship to cover the cost of fuel to patrol the River Wensum on New Year's Eve to make sure revellers remain safe.
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