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VISAR Rescued Me

The Virgin Islands Search and Rescue boat sped across the Sir Francis Drake Channel toward Salt Island to conduct a training rescue on an acting casualty—me. As the 29-foot, bright orange RIB bounced and bounded through the mildly choppy water at 45 knots, volunteer crew Paul Hubbard asked if I was comfortable with the speed. “It’s fine,” I lied. I wanted to experience a true rescue mission which meant appreciating that the time factor was crucial in saving lives in remote locations. The Virgin Islands are lucky to have VISAR.

The boat soon docked at Salt Island where the crew instructed me to walk down the beach and feign injury. I put on my best “whoa is me” acting skills, sank into the sand and waited for the VISAR volunteers to come to my rescue. Paul soon crouched beside me and asked about my injury while Abi Hillman and Russell Willings approached with the stretcher and first-aid kit. Their professionalism and directness quickly made me forget that I was playing a role, and I answered Paul’s questions as if I were actually wounded, candidly recounting past surgeries and broken bones. While Paul assessed my status and my history, Abi took my pulse and blood pressure, and Russell administered oxygen after securing my head and neck. The VISAR crew treated my faux injury of a sprained ankle with a vacuum splint then strapped me onto a plastic stretcher, due to my reported spinal discomfort, in order to transport me back to theboat. I felt comfortable on the stretcher until my hands were velcroed to my chest.

Paul said, “We do this so the casualty can’t reach out and grab onto things or grab onto us” in a way that might interfere with the safety of the transport. I understood the logic of it, but my survival instinct wanted free hands to somehow protect me if anything happened. I imagined the worst—falling into the sea with my body strapped to the board. I was not Houdini, so I didn’t think I could manage an underwater disentanglement and escape. But the crew assuaged my fears and safely carried me, the stretchered victim, down to the dock, loaded me onto the boat, and fastened me to the padded platform. By that time, I felt safe and protected after noting the crew’s expertise and attention, so I zoned out (possibly as a result of the oxygen) on the clouds above me, the only place my eyes could look since I couldn’t turn my head. The returning ride across the Channel felt smoother from the back of the boat, and Paul monitored my vitals and condition as we crossed. Normally, the boat would be met by an ambulance once it reached the VISAR headquarters in Road Reef. The entire rescue had taken less than an hour.

In order to ensure a quick response to an emergency situation, Paul stressed that those in need dial 767 to directly contact a VISAR coordinator. Dialing 911 or 999 will also eventually reach a coordinator, after going through BVI Emergency Services. As soon as I left the VISAR headquarters, I programmed VISAR Emergency as 767 into my phone’s directory, and I believe everyone in the BVI should do the same. (767 is SOS on a standard phone keypad.)

VISAR, a volunteer organization solely funded by donations, answers an average of one shout per week over the course of the year—some weeks they receive several shouts per day while other weeks they receive none. “The coordinators deal with a lot more calls than that, but they don’t always result in launching the boat,” Paul said. A second 29-foot rescue boat is currently being custom built by TP Marine in Holland, to be launched out of the Virgin Gorda VISAR headquarters in Spanish Town. The VISAR launch record is available at www.visar.org, along with information on how to donate or volunteer. The organization currently has about 30 trained volunteer crewmembers in Tortola and 15 more based in Virgin Gorda, but they are always looking for more volunteers—either for crew, fundraising or answering phones. “You can never have too many volunteers,” Paul said. Crew training, which includes completing an Emergency First Response course, can take up to a year to be “competently and confidently” completed. Interested parties or prospective volunteers can stop by VISAR’s weekly meeting on Mondays at 6:30pm in Road Reef or on Tuesdays at 6pm in Spanish Town for more information.


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