Teenager becomes youngest RNLI lifeboat volunteer

Gary and Kieran Fairbairn.
Gary and Kieran Fairbairn.
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A 17-year-old schoolboy from East Lothian has become Scotland’s youngest RNLI lifeboat volunteer.

Kieran Fairbairn is following in the wellies of his father, Gary Fairbairn who is the Dunbar Lifeboat coxswain, and great-great-great grandfather who were both awarded medals for bravery after daring rescues at sea.

Kieran received his pager a month after turning 17, the youngest age anyone can join the crew.

The Dunbar Grammar School pupil is now on call to respond to any life-saving emergencies – even if it means racing from the classroom.

Kieran has begun his training and will serve on Dunbar station’s two lifeboats.

He said: “Lifeboats have been in my family since forever. I’ve grown up around it, I used to watch my dad going off on rescues from our window.

“Now it feels fantastic to have the pager and be part of the crew myself. And it’s great to be able to give something back to the community I live in.”

Kieran is in his final year at high school but he might have to put his school work on hold if the pager goes off while he’s in class. He said: “My teachers have given me special dispensation to be out of class. I might have to wait a while before I get my first shout but I hope when the time comes I’ll be ready.”

Dad Gary, 48, says that when it comes to his son there will be no favouritism. He said: “Nothing will change. Whatever the shout and whatever the emergency I have to pick the best crew available for the job in hand.”

The Fairbairn name is so synonymous with saving lives at sea in Dunbar the town named a street in their honour. Gary was awarded the bronze medal for bravery in 2009 after the rescue of a couple from their stricken yacht in force 9 winds and 10m waves.

Over a hundred years before, in 1905, Walter Fairbairn was awarded the silver medal for helping save the lives of 40 men in a seagoing yacht that had run adrift. Gary’s dad, David, also served on the crew in the 1980s.

Gary is proud to see Kieran on the crew but he knows how hard the job can be. He said: “Some jobs have been so rough I’ve kept the details from my family and one job sticks in my memory because we were tasked to a boy who’d fallen from cliffs who was the same age as Kieran.

“Will it be at the back of my mind, that I’m potentially taking my son into a dangerous situation? Of course. In the old days multiple family members were not permitted on shouts in case of loss, but today the boats are a lot safer, and sometimes it can pay to have someone you know well alongside you.

“My brother-in-law was my mechanic here on many rescues – including the yacht episode – and it felt like he knew exactly what I was thinking. But that concern will always be at the back of my mind.”

And it might not be long before there’s a third Fairbairn on the crew. Gary added: “My daughter Jodi, who’s 14 just now, is also desperate to join!”