The 2020 award (for rescues carried out in 2019) was made to Winchman Philip Wrenn of the Shannon Search and Rescue Helicopter base in Ireland. Phil is a winch paramedic with the Irish Coast Guard helicopter service.
On 23 February 2019, Phil Wrenn faced a perilous situation in heavy seas, while rescuing two people from the foreshore at Inishmore, in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. With much of his lifesaving equipment swept away, he battled the surf at great personal risk, to complete the rescue of both people, one of whom had suffered serious injury.
The rescue took place at a location known as ‘The Worm Hole’, a geological feature resembling a large natural swimming pool. On winching down, Phil was faced with a serious and dangerous situation. Two people had been washed into the sea, but had managed to scramble ashore, and the alarm was raised. One of the casualties had suffered a badly injured leg during the ordeal, and both were cold and exhausted. While preparing them to be winched onto the aircraft, the area was completely engulfed by large breaking waves, washing vital rescue equipment into the sea.
Risks faced by SAR crews
Holding on to the casualties to keep them safe, with a huge effort Phil managed to stabilize the situation and prepared them for winching. With more life-threatening breaking waves rapidly approaching, time was of the essence. Phil attached lifting strops to the casualties and himself and, in a great display of teamwork and communication, completed the winch operation before the area was once more engulfed. When onboard the helicopter, first aid was administered and the casualties were flown to Galway hospital for follow up treatment.
George Rawlinson MBE, Award Committee Chair, said: “During this service Phil Wrenn faced considerable personal risk. His calm determined professionalism, and quick-thinking selfless action undoubtably ensured a successful outcome. A very courageous and brave act indeed, in saving the lives of both casualties. Huge credit goes to the pilot and crew of the rescue helicopter, whose teamwork and communication skills were vital to ensuring a successful outcome for all.
“Phil’s actions exemplify the risks often faced by search and rescue helicopter crews, and other maritime emergency services, who are always ready to respond to the call for help, even in the most challenging and risky conditions.”