Rescue boat crewman's close call
UPDATE March 1: (see photos and video below) MARK Puglisi and Gary Meredith know the Ballina waterways like the back of their hands.
Mr Puglisi spent his childhood weekends trawling for prawns with his father in the mouth of Richmond River and beyond.
But this favoured pastime took a turn for the worse on a perfect sunny Saturday morning when Mr Puglisi's father was knocked overboard and unconscious by one of the boat's wire guiders.
While the incredibly frightening experience took his father extremely close to death, it also paved the way for Mr Puglisi's future endeavours.
"I jumped over the side and rescued him and the Ballina Jet Boat Rescue came out with the ambos on it," he said.
"He nearly died; he was really close and if it wasn't for the boat bringing the ambos out he would have died."
The tragic incident fuelled Mr Puglisi's interest in the Ballina Jet Boat Rescue, a 40-year-old marine rescue unit that has saved countless lives on the treacherous Ballina Bar and surrounding ocean.
A newly acquired jet boat, two jet skis and a dedicated team of 15 volunteers make up the rescue unit.
Mr Puglisi's entry into the rescue organisation was similar to Brad Herd's, a sales manager from Ballina who was rescued by the Ballina Jet Boat in October after his jet ski broke down two kilometres offshore.
It is not unusual for the rescue volunteers - in particular the jet boat captains Mr Puglisi and long-time member Mr Meredith - to have their lazy Sundays and family weekends interrupted by urgent rescue calls.
"Most of our stuff is in the holidays, weekends and public holidays," Mr Puglisi conceded.
"It's a commitment; you have to answer your phone basically."
But plucking people out of the water is not the jet boat's only purpose.
"There have been a few memorable rescues," Mr Meredith recalled.
"We did a domestic (violence incident) at Goat Island near Wardell with the police and a siege at South Ballina.
"Then there was the bank robbery of the Commonwealth Bank a while back where the guy tried to escape and swam across the creek."
If one thing is evident from meeting the jet boat volunteers it is that the ability to multi-task is a pre-requisite for the role.
Mr Puglisi is a full-time police officer and full-time father.
Mr Meredith is a father of two who works at the local council and has just jumped into a new business venture.