RNLI North Coast Receives Prestigious ‘999 Hero’ Accolade

THE Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) North Coast has been named Northern Ireland’s ‘999 Hero’ at the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2024.

Sponsored by Irish-owned pizza chain Four Star Pizza, the prestigious ‘999 Hero’ award recognises members of the emergency services that have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their jobs.

With the RNLI celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, the North Coast lifesavers were a fitting and popular winner on the night, as team members Beni McAllister and David Robinson received the award from Four Star Pizza CEO Colin Hughes and stars of the popular Blue Lights TV series, Joanne  Crawford and Desmond Eastwood.

“We are truly honoured to present this year’s 999 Hero award to the staff and volunteers from the RNLI on the North Coast who provide a vital lifeline to hundreds of people who are involved in accidents at sea every year,” said Four Star Pizza CEO Colin Hughes, who hails from Lurgan in County Armagh.

“They are the true embodiment of heroism and an inspiration for us all, selflessly giving up their time and showing such bravery in the face of adversity, battling the seas in all weathers to help save lives.

“While there can only be one winner of this incredibly special award, we at Four Star Pizza would like to take this opportunity to salute all those individuals and teams working in our emergency services.

“As a company deeply rooted in local communities, with franchises in towns across Ireland, we offer our heartfelt gratitude, on behalf of all our customers and staff, for their extraordinary acts of courage and sacrifice, and we are honoured to help celebrate their resilience and unwavering dedication,” he added.

On receiving the award, RNLI Portrush Coxswain / Mechanic Dave Robinson said:  “It’s a nice feeling to be recognised for the work we do round the coastline, with ourselves and the lifeguards.

“There are lots of beautiful beaches and rocky coastlines on the North Coast that attract a lot of people doing water sports, cliff walking and generally enjoying the beaches and water.

“When that pager goes off, you’ve no idea what you’re going into until you arrive at the station and get a brief to tell you where you’re going. It literally could be anything. The water is very dangerous and you can get caught out very easily, especially with an offshore wind. We are a very close team though.  We’re with each other a lot as we train on a regular basis, so we know what we’re doing,” added Dave.

To provide this crucial service requires massive financial support, as Lifeboat Operations Manager Beni McAllister explained.

“We’re operational 365 days a year, at a cost of millions each year, so we depend a lot a lot on the public, and our fundraisers put a lot of work in for us,” said Beni.

“In an average year, we probably launch about 50 times with the summer being particularly busy with more visitors along the coastline.

“Our crews and shore crews are all volunteers, and we have a great mix of people with experience in different areas, including an A&E consultant, a GP, police officers, paramedics, architects and people with marine backgrounds. Every call is different, and within a quick space of time you’re deciding who is best suited to go.

“We are a big team. We’re a family here, and we have a connection across the coastline with other stations. We cover each other and we back each other up at flank stations. If we have a bigger shout or a longer shout then we support each other.

“All our funding comes from donations and legacies, so, yes, we rely totally on those kind donations from people on the street who help us do what we do,” he added.

For more information on the RNLI or to make a donation, visit www.rnli.org or find RNLI Portrush, Redbay Lifeboat, and RNLI Lifeguards Northern Ireland on Facebook and Instagram.

Almost 400 people attended the star-studded Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards ceremony which was hosted by UTV’s Pamela Ballantine and Cool FM’s Pete Snodden at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Cultra.

The awards honour inspirational people from across Northern Ireland, with other award categories including Unsung Hero, Charity Champion, Caring Spirit, Community Hero, Eco Champion, Young Carer, Overcoming Adversity, Spirit of Health, Spirit of Education, Spirit of Youth and Spirit of Sport.

Four Star Pizza opened its first Irish store in Dublin in 1986, and its first Northern Ireland store in Belfast in 1999.

The company now employs more than 1,000 people across 58 stores on the island of Ireland, with locations including Belfast, Bangor, Dundonald, Carrickfergus, Newry, Drumahoe, Derry, Armagh, Newtownabbey, Coleraine, Lisburn, Craigavon, Dublin, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Wicklow, Donegal, Clare, Kildare, Limerick, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Waterford and Wexford.

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