Sunderland RNLI volunteers – Guy Fawkes safety message

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Distress Flares are vital

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Dont Confuse by Careless use of Fireworks

Date: 03/11/2011

Author: Ben Mitchell, Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer

Volunteers at Sunderland RNLI are urging people to think about their Guy Fawkes celebrations this weekend.

RNLI lifeboats and other emergency services around the country are increasingly being called upon for false calls regarding Chinese lanterns and maliciously fired flares, often putting the volunteer crews at risk as well as making the lifeboats unavailable for any other emergencies that should arise.

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Chinese lanterns are made from paper and are fuelled by a wax paper wick. After being lit on the ground the lanterns rise slowly and majestically into the air. These Lanterns are becoming increasingly popular in Britain and are often used during weddings, beach parties or in memory of a loved one.

These Lanterns can easily be mistaken by concerned members of the public as maritime distress flares which burn brightly in order to attract attention should assistance be required. Lifeboat officials state that the differences should be easy to spot; red distress flares fall after being fired, slowly to the sea, whereas lanterns can be seen rising and then going out.

Ben Mitchell Volunteer crewman at Sunderland RNLI Station said ‘Often the crews are local to the station and can identify the lanterns and warn the Coastguard, but with an untrained person noticing the lanterns a well intentioned call can mean an exhaustive search in sometimes challenging conditions for the volunteers at Sunderland.’

Marine pyrotechnics, commonly known as ‘flares’, are designed to be fired over water. If they are fired over land they are likely to still be extremely hot when they land and could cause serious burns or a fire. Flares are a vital part of safety equipment for those going to sea for work or leisure purposes but should not be used in non-distress situations.

Flares are intended as a means of signalling for help when in distress at sea to assist the RNLI’s lifeboat or the military’s Search and Rescue helicopter crews in locating vessels. That’s why any misuse of flares, such as for entertainment during firework and bonfire night celebrations, could divert search and rescue assets away from a genuine emergency.

Ben added ‘The message from the RNLI and the volunteers at Sunderland is simple; if people want to use Chinese lanterns near to the coast they should contact the Coastguard Operations Room prior to the occasion and inform them where and when they wish to fire them. It is important for people who maliciously fire distress flares to understand that they are carrying out an act which is exactly the same as making a hoax ‘999’ call. This action could have serious consequences if someone was in genuine need of assistance while we were dealing with a false call.’

When flares reach their expiry date they should be carefully disposed of, the temptation to fire them as a means of disposal must be avoided. Guidance on the disposal of time expired pyrotechnics is available on the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s website MCA Website, or by contacting them on 01262 672 317.

As a registered charity the RNLI relies on voluntary donations and legacies from the public for income.

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