Recognition for Wooli’s full-time marine rescue volunteer
WHEN Richard Taffs hears the word 'mayday' come in over the radio, normal life stops still.
His dedication and willingness to drop everything to help people in need as the unit commander of Wooli Marine Rescue unit is commendable, and also the reason he has never seen the end of a Harry Potter film.
This year, his unwavering service as a volunteer has earned him an Emergency Service Medal.
A self-professed "boatie" since he was a teenager, Mr Taffs moved from South Australia to Wooli 15 years ago when he retired from a long and illustrious career in teaching.
"We joined Marine Rescue and that was the end of retirement," he laughed.
"Running a unit is a full time job these days."
As well as rescue operations, the radio service and education, the Wooli unit also spearheads efforts to raise the $20,000 needed to keep the service afloat each year.
And that's just the beginning.
Since joining the Wooli Volunteer Rescue Association in 2002, Mr Taffs has helped guide the establishment of MRNSW as a single rescue service, chaired a training committee that secured MRNSW's status as a registered training organisation, and attained the highest qualifications available to members of the service as a Marine Rescue Master and Search and Rescue Officer, using his skills and knowledge to lead the unit's rescue boat crew in rescue operations.
The 71-year-old also contributes up to 1000 hours a year supporting the development and delivery of marine rescue training throughout the Northern Rivers, and runs regular recreational boat licence courses in the Clarence Valley with his wife Jackie, who is the unit's marine radio base coordinator.
He estimates he has put more than 1000 applicants through boat license courses and rescued more than 500 people in the time he has been with Marine Rescue.
"One time I was at the checkout at Fishing Tackle Australia in Coffs, and the guy at the counter said, 'I know you, you rescued me!' at the top of his voice," Mr Taffs said. "Some wit down the back yelled back, 'what did you do that for?'."
The answer for Mr Taffs is that someone's got do it, so why not him?
"Australia has a huge search and rescue zone that we are responsible for; it runs almost to Africa and down to Antarctica," he said.
"Our Federal Government will spend a million dollars to rescue a lone yachtsman in the Southern Ocean, but we need to provide the same service for our local recreational boaters operating out of Wooli, Minnie Water and Sandon.
"I always have this feeling that I'm a tiny little cog but it's a really big wheel and somebody's got to do it.
"The challenge at Wooli is that we are the smallest rescue unit in the state, operating out of a community of only several hundred people, so it's a really small space to raise the funds and the members to do it."
There are 20 Marine Rescue volunteers at Wooli, which equates to about 10% of the whole population,
When the unit is not operational the Taffs provide radio coverage around the clock from their home.
Mr Taffs said it was very much a team effort, and sees the honour of receiving an ESM as recognition of his team.
"Any emergency organisation must operate as a team," he said.
"You can't run a rescue vehicle without a crew, and you can't run a radio service without a schedule.
"It's given me a great interest in life.
"I don't regret any minute that I've put into it because you get so much back, whether it is the thanks and gratitude that you get from people after a rescue or simply being out on the water watching the whales."