2013: Flood Rescue Team receives first gallantry medals

‘It was a sound that will stay with me for a long time,’ says RNLI Flood Rescue Boat Team Leader Paul Eastment. ‘It was desperate and full of emotion. I will never forget it.’ The RNLI Flood Rescue Team were searching for a terrified woman clinging to a tree in a flooded river, when they heard her shrill scream for help.

Vanessa Glover was with her 7-year-old son and husband when their vehicle became trapped in floodwater at Umberleigh in Devon on 23 December 2012. The River Taw was 3.5m above its normal range and the powerful floodwater had forced the car off the road.

Her family managed to cling to the roof of the car and were rescued by firefighters. But, as Vanessa tried to scramble to safety, she was swept away. Dragged 75m through gardens full of debris, she eventually managed to catch hold of a branch. Ideally, the rescue would have been by helicopter or a two-boat operation. Neither was available. Thankfully, the RNLI Flood Rescue Team arrived at 1.45am and Paul launched their one available boat.

RNLI Flood Rescue Team members Paul, Chris and Martin take part in a reconstruction of the Umberleigh rescue

Photo: RNLI/Robin Goodlad

RNLI Flood Rescue Team members Paul, Chris and Martin take part in a reconstruction of the Umberleigh rescue.

Volunteer Helm Chris Missen battled against the relentless ferocity of the water. The situation posed a significant risk with floodwater full of debris and moving at 12 knots. As heavy rain continued to fall and conditions deteriorated, Paul and Crew Member Martin Blaker worked together to guide Chris along the safest route to the casualty.

Chris expertly manoeuvred the boat in the darkness with only the crews’ head torches and a small spotlight for help while the police helicopter used their spotlight to indicate Vanessa’s location.

Vanessa had been in the water for 50 minutes, was exhausted, extremely cold and unlikely to be able to hold onto the branch for much longer.

Reconstruction of the Umberleigh rescue: The Flood Rescue Team rescue Vanessa.

Photo: RNLI/Robin Goodlad

Reconstruction of the Umberleigh rescue: The Flood Rescue Team rescue Vanessa.

Chris steered the boat backwards through the torrent of water and then sideways so that Paul and Martin could reach for Mrs Glover and drag her into the boat.

After her ordeal Vanessa said: ‘You gave me the gift of life and the joy of knowing that Santa [had] called on my son at Christmas. I will hold you in my heart forever. Thank you.’

Flood Rescue Team with their medals and the Duke of Kent
Flood Rescue Team receive their awards. Left-right: Chris Missen, HRH the Duke of Kent, Paul Eastment and Martin Blaker.

For the Umberleigh rescue, RNLI Shore Command Bernie Mannings and Driver Jason Dunlop received the Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum, and Incident Commander Robin Goodlad received a Framed Letter of Thanks from the Chair of the Institution.

For the boat crew who faced dynamic risks in the harshest of conditions, Boat Team Leader Paul Eastment, Helm Chris Missen and Crew Member Martin Blaker each received the RNLI Bronze Medal for Gallantry, the first to be awarded for flood rescue.

And in October 2013, the crew won the Daybreak Emergency Services Award at Pride of Britain after being nominated by Vanessa.

Flood Rescue Team members Chris Missen and Paul Eastment with Vanessa Glover

Photo: RNLI/Tamsin Thomas

Vanessa Glover with two of the Flood Rescue Team members, Chris Missen and Paul Eastment.

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