Volunteers helping keep southern waters safer

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2014
Rhys Ferguson
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/Fairfax NZ
Coastguard Bluff volunteer Rhys Ferguson is one of thousands of Southlanders who volunteer for hundreds of organisations.

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A simple beer with a friend turned Rhys Ferguson into a hero.

Bluff man Ferguson, credited with spotting Easy Rider survivor Dallas Reedy in 2012, is one of the many volunteers in Southland who put in long hours of service to organisations.

But this week is National Volunteer Week and Coastguard Bluff president Andy Johnson said Ferguson was the perfect candidate.

Ferguson joined the Bluff Coastguard nine years ago after a night in the pub, where his "arm was twisted" by a mate.

Joining the Coastguard seemed a natural progression - he enjoyed being out on the sea but had taken a job on land after he started a family.

"It keeps me out on the water, what I like doing."

The crew quickly became like a family and Ferguson was devoted.

He understates the hours he puts in and when he starts to rattle off the training days, summer patrolling, callouts and monthly meetings, it all begins to add up.

He maintains it is worth it and, despite the sad nature of some of the calls, there are plenty of highlights.

"The biggest one for me was rescuing Dallas, but it's not just one, there are quite a few highlights, like any time we rescue someone alive, that's a big highlight."

Ferguson was only 21 when he joined and his first major callout was the sinking of the Kotuku.

Six drowned that day. "Just dealing with that was quite hard."

The grief takes it toll but the reward of bringing home loved ones, or bringing home closure, outweighs it.

"Even if you can't find someone alive, it's always good to be able to bring someone back to their family."

Ferguson doesn't take the credit, though.

All rescues require a team and dedicated volunteers.

In small towns, when there is an emergency it normally involves volunteers from all organisations and his employer, Sanfords, was used to people dropping tools to attend crashes, house fires and search and rescues, he said.

"Especially in Bluff, there are a lot of volunteers."

Ferguson's wife, Saird, adds that he won an award this year for having the most extended lunch hours, a telling sign of how much he puts into his community.

She's used to him rushing out the door when his pager goes off and despite often worrying, she understands the importance of his time.

"I am really proud of him."

Ferguson said the coastguard was always looking for new volunteers with a range of skills, whether it was simply helping with paperwork or being one of the crew, who year after year keep the southern waters safer.

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