Volunteer heroes in treacherous seas

Daryna ZadvirnaAlbany Advertiser
Albany Sea Rescue Squad volunteer Jason Shepherd.
Camera IconAlbany Sea Rescue Squad volunteer Jason Shepherd. Credit: Picture: Laurie Benson, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Whether they are defending our homes in a fire, searching for lost loved ones or saving our lives, volunteers are the local heroes we lean on in times of crisis.

To keep the rest of us safe, our volunteer emergency services need fresh faces to bolster their ranks.

After a busy six months in the region, punctuated by several tragedies, we need them now more than ever.

In a month-long campaign, the Advertiser is paying tribute to the special yet ordinary people who step up for their communities.

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Albany’s coastline is considered by many to be among the most beautiful in WA — and also one of the most dangerous.

“That’s what makes our role so vital,” says Jason Shepherd, an Albany Sea Rescue volunteer of 16 years.

Mr Shepherd has lost count of the people he has saved from drowning.

He says he never hesitates to help someone in trouble, regardless of the size of the swell or strength of the current.

“When you see people in trouble you go help them — you don’t think about it,” he said.

But despite being recognised for his bravery multiple times, he shies away from being called a “hero”.

Last year, the 49-year-old received the Australian Bravery Medal after rescuing seven people from a rip at Nanarup Beach in 2017. While off-duty, he swam into the powerful rip three times, getting two adults and five children to safety with the help of a boogie board.

In 2016, Mr Shepherd was also one of three ASR members, including Chris Johns and Tim Wilkinson, to receive a Gold Cross at the WA Royal Life Saving Society’s Bravery Awards.

The trio were recognised for their actions after being deployed on a night search in rough conditions at the Blowholes to rescue a woman who had suffered serious head, chest and spinal injuries.

Albany Sea Rescue during the search for a missing Northam couple.
Camera IconAlbany Sea Rescue during the search for a missing Northam couple. Credit: Albany Advertiser, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Mr Shepherd said his love for the ocean and passion for helping people drove him as a volunteer.

No two incidents were quite the same, he said, with the weather, tides and time of day all presenting different challenges.

“Quite a few years ago, a couple came down from Perth and they were kayaking with their dog around Mistaken Island,” he said.

“It got really rough and she got blown over with the dog, couldn’t get back on and then her partner got blown out and couldn’t reach her. “When we eventually found her she just burst out crying because she was so scared ... we got the dog out, too.

“That was probably one that I’ll always remember because we could’ve lost her pretty quickly and she was so grateful.”

The recent search for a missing couple from Northam was particularly mentally taxing, Mr Shepherd said. “There have been so many tragedies here off the south coast,” he said.

“And it was always at the back of your mind because they were missing and you just want them to come home to their loved ones and find them to have that closure.

“But sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.”

The father of two said he leaned on his family if he needed support.

“Sometimes you sit down for dinner to eat at 7.30pm and get a call because something has happened and you have to get up and go,” he said.

“So that’s always hard for them.

“But they are always very interested and proud of what I do.

“They support me 100 per cent.

“My older boy said he wants to do it too one day, and I’d like him to, but you know what teenagers are like.”

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