WHEN Martin Blaker-Rowe received a call to say that flood waters were rising to life-threatening levels in Devon, he did what any hero would do and leapt into action.
Now the Fareham man has received a Pride of Britain award for his part in the rescue of a woman who was swept away in fast-flowing waters.
The 34-year-old is one of three members of the RNLI Flood Rescue Team, which operates out of Poole, to receive the honour, which was revealed earlier this week on television.
Martin said: ‘I was massively surprised but I feel very honoured. I was humbled by all the other people at the awards too.’
Vanessa Glover, 46, the woman rescued by the team, put them forward for the recognition.
Mrs Glover, who is originally from Waterlooville, had been driving home from a party in Devon last December with her husband and seven-year-old son when their car got stuck in flood waters. As the family scrambled on to the roof of the car for safety, Mrs Glover was swept away. She managed to catch hold of a branch but a rescue helicopter was over an hour away.
With no other options available, the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team launched their boat with Chris Missen at the helm, team leader Paul Eastment, and Martin as crew.
Martin, who has been in the Flood Rescue Team since it formed last year, said: ‘The rest of the full-time crew had been called out. I got a phone call to see if I could deploy.
‘I went to Poole, met the team, and then we drove down to Barnstaple. On the way, the weather was so bad. We came across a horrendous car crash so helped with that first.
‘When we got to Barnstaple, we met the other emergency services and went to Umberleigh. Never in my life have I seen anything like it. The water was so deep. It had gone through all the buildings, it was dark and it was flowing so fast. It was by far the most treacherous situation I have ever seen.’
The situation was inherently dangerous. The team was unfamiliar with the area, it was dark, the flood waters were moving at 12 knots and carrying debris and it was still raining heavily.
A police helicopter used its heat-seeking camera to find Glover, and shone its spotlight in the general area.
The Flood Rescue Team manoeuvred into save her. She had been clinging on in freezing flood water for 50 minutes.
Mrs Glover said: ‘I want to thank you for your bravery, courage, determination, professionalism and commendable quality of character... I will hold you in my heart forever. Thank you for saving my life.’
Martin has also been awarded the RNLI Bronze Medal for Gallantry. He will be showing his medals at his son’s football club, Fareham Mini Soccer, tomorrow.
A NIGHT OF TURMOIL, DRAMA AND HEAVY RAIN
On December 22, six severe flood warnings were in place for the South West in the evening as heavy rain continued to fall on the already saturated ground.
Two boat teams from the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team had been asked to deploy by the Fire and Rescue Service National Coordination Centre and arrived in Barnstaple at 12.30am. They were ready to launch 15 minutes later.
Meanwhile, ten miles south of Barnstaple at Umberleigh, the River Taw reached almost 3.5 metres above its normal range and had flooded the surrounding fields.
The Glover family were driving home to South Molton at 1am through the flood water, which was 1.2 metres deep.
The fast flowing water was travelling at 12 knots and was enough to lift the Glover’s car and pin it against a hedge, which started to break.
The family got oun to the roof of the car and Mrs Glover was swrept away.
At 1.15am, the RNLI Flood Rescue Team was asked to help look for Mrs Glover, they arrived at 1.40am.
By this time, Mrs Glover had been in the cold water for 30 minutes and if she was washed further downstream the chances of finding her would be slim.
Initial rescue attempts had been unsuccessful and a rescue by helicopter was over an hour away.
With no other rescue options available, the RNLI Flood Rescue Team launched.
At 1.51am, the RNLI Flood Rescue Team launched their boat with Chris Missen at the helm, team leader Paul Eastment, and Martin Blaker-Rowe as crew.
Martin kept a look out upstream and directed Chris on how to avoid any debris while Paul instructed Chris on the best route to take through the fast-flowing water.
Chris expertly maneuvered the boat in the darkness with only the crew members’ headlamps and a small spotlight for help. Meanwhile the police helicopter was hovering over the spot where Mrs Glover clung to the branch, using their spotlight to indicate her location to the boat crew.
Martin and Paul reached for Mrs Glover to pull her into the boat while Chris maintained the boat’s position.
Martin assessed Mrs Glover’s condition – she was extremely cold, and it is unlikely she would have been physically able to hold onto the branch for much longer.
There was no time to get Mrs Glover in a comfortable position, nor space within the confines of the boat to get her in the recovery position. Chris then retraced his steps out into the flow and upstream. Even with the engine at full throttle, the boat was only making 4 knots (in favourable conditions, this type of boat is capable of 20 knots).
Once further upstream, Chris steered the boat sideways across the flow towards the spot where they originally launched.
At 1.57am Mrs Glover was successfully recovered to the shore. She had been in the water for 50 minutes.
The boat crew left at 2.10am. On the way back they were flagged down by two people in Bishop Tawton reporting two residents stranded in a house. The team then relaunched and continued to help with rescues in the village until 3.30am.