For IMRF member organisation Les Sauveteurs en Mer (SNSM) in France, the COVID-19 medical crisis has seen their volunteers deployed in many different ways.

As an approved civil security organisation, Rescuers at Sea are trained in first aid and emergency rescue and, at the request of the French Government, they can be requisitioned to support the medical teams fighting against COVID-19.

Whether it has been running an evacuation and medical transport service, providing reinforcements at medical and hospital centres, or helping with the delivery of medicines and food to the most vulnerable, SNSM’s volunteers have been providing help and assistance 24 hours a day, at sea and on land, while following all of the necessary COVID-19 precautionary measures.

Rescuers from the SNSM have volunteered at a consultation centre which was receiving patients with COVID-19 symptoms and have worked with municipal services to house the homeless and their pets.

They have also developed a telephone exchange to receive calls from a toll-free number dedicated to making appointments for people with COVID-19, who are then referred to a medical platform.

At the height of the crisis, the volunteers were also tasked to assist with the transfer by rail (using the high speed train, the TGV) of seriously infected patients from regions with  a high rate of COVID-19 infections to hospitals in other regions with available beds in intensive care units.     

SNSM volunteers have helped more than 300 people stranded at an airport, by reassuring them and taking them to hotels. At ports around France, rescuers have helped to install COVID-19 barrier measures and others have helped transport masks to the prefecture, hospitals and other locations where they were urgently needed.

Several stations have used their rescue boats to provide medical transport for suspected COVID-19 patients who needed to get to hospital.  In each case the SNSM staff were fully dressed in PPE equipment and followed all recommended precautions, including fully disinfecting the boat after the medevac, all in line with the IMRF COVID-19 guidelines.

Alongside all their additional COVID-19 volunteering, the SNSM is still providing maritime SAR services around the country, including the rescue of two people on a sailboat with its rudder wrapped in fishing gear, working with other maritime units to assist a 99-meter freighter with engine damage in the access channel to the port of Dunkirk and bailing out a fishing vessel that had been decommissioned and sunk on its mooring – to name just a few!

Mr. Marc Sauvagnac, General manager, says:Les Sauveteurs en Mer was formed to serve the public in this way and to save lives at sea and on land wherever possible.  We are working hard to continue to provide effective SAR and lifesaving services, while minimising the risk of infection for staff and volunteers in everything we do. But we are also here to respond immediately to the needs of the authorities in this health crisis, and we will still be here when life returns to normal, working to continue to ensure the protection of the public on beaches and at sea.