Sheringham coastguard retires after 30 years’ service

When Stuart Facey signed up as a volunteer coastguard 30 years ago, helicopter rescues were a thing of the future.

Instead, the emergency services had to rely on the breeches buoy system, using a rocket-fired rope and sling to haul casualties to safety.

Mr Facey, who steps down from his role as Sheringham station officer this week, has seen many changes over the years.

'When I first joined, it was before the days of stringent health and safety regulations,' he said. ' I remember firing off a maroon to let a couple of lads in trouble at sea know we had seen them and it misfired and detonated about 20 feet above their heads and frightened the life out of them.'

Born at Pine Grove, Sheringham, Mr Facey worked in the clothing industry before setting up his own taxi firm based at Holt and Sheringham three years ago. He joined the Coastguard Service in 1981, when the five-strong Sheringham team was based at a lookout station on the clifftops near the town's golf course.

With the advent of modern technology, the role of the coastguard changed and rescue officers were required to spend less time watching for sailors and swimmers in trouble at sea.

In 1988, the voluntary group Coastwatch took over the clifftop lookout and, after a five year spell working from the town hall and a further stint in a beach chalet, the team co-located with Cromer coastguards, eventually being offered a base at Sheringham fire station a couple of years ago.

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As well as being called on to rescue people and pets from the cliffs and isolate unexploded WW2 devices before the arrival of army bomb disposal experts, Mr Facey, deputy station officer Jerry Woodley and fellow team members Chris O'Regan, Peter Smith and Shaun Bryenton have dealt with their fair share of amusing – and sometimes dramatic – incidents.

They included rescuing a man in an electric wheelchair who had decided to descend a steep slipway to the beach.

Mr Facey remembered: 'It was very slippery and he hurtled to the bottom at great speed, flew off a two foot drop at the end, and landed upright on the sand at the bottom.'

He and West Runton builder Mr Woodley were first on the scene when hazardous chemicals were washed up on the beach at Kelling in May 1991.

'We got the shock of our lives when we arrived and were confronted by two 40ft wheeled containers of highly volatile chemicals,' Mr Facey recalled.

The pair called the coastguard headquarters at Great Yarmouth which led to Weybourne, Kelling and part of Sheringham being evacuated so that Royal Engineer soldiers could safely remove the containers via a specially-built road.

Mr Facey's three decades as a coastguard, including 15 years as station officer, have had their harrowing moments too, with he and his team having to rescue badly injured and distressed members of the public.

In 1996, they were called on to help recover the bodies of a brother and sister aged six and four, who had been swept out to sea two weeks previously while on holiday with their parents near Hunstanton.

'At the time, you just have to get on with the job as, although it isn't something you can train for, it is part of being a coastguard,' he said. 'But it does stay in your mind and it is something that will be with me forever.'

A former member of local singing group the Sheringham Shantymen, Mr Facey, 64, decided to retire from the coastguard service to concentrate on his taxi business, and to spend more time with his family, including his seven grandchildren.

'After 30 years, I felt it was time for someone else to step in,' he said.

Mr Woodley, who has been a coastguard at Sheringham since 1983, will be taking on the job of acting station officer following Mr Facey's retirement.

'Stuart will be missed,' he said. 'He is dedicated, enthusiastic and he's always done his best as part of the team.'

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