Hellenic Rescue Team Lesvos
The Hellenic Rescue Team Lesvos is a lifesaving organisation entirely run by volunteers, responsible for saving lives on land and at sea. Formed in 2001, the team provide a rescue and first aid service to the island of Lesvos in the Aegean Sea.
The water rescue department of HRT Lesvos was formed in 2001. In spring/summer 2015, levels of refugees and migrants crossing the Aegean Sea to Lesvos from Turkey reached crisis levels, with thousands of migrants a day making the dangerous crossing in overcrowded boats not fit for sea.
Tragically, the crisis resulted in the death of hundreds of men, women and children. In the midst of this drowning crisis, the Hellenic Rescue Team of Greece requested international support through the International Maritime Rescue Federation.
The British Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) responded to this request and provided equipment and training support to the HRT Lesvos Branch. As a result of this support, the team is now ready to respond 24/7, within 30 minutes, to emergency call-outs from the Hellenic Coastguard. The team is now considered the islanders’ principal provider of maritime search and rescue.
The team uses two reconditioned Atlantic 75 lifeboats gifted by the RNLI, boats that have already saved many lives in the UK. These lifeboats, operated by skilled volunteers, now continue the heritage of lifesaving, providing water rescue capability to the island and those in harm’s way – whether migrants, tourists or the local population.
The Mountain Rescue Department is the oldest part of the Greek Rescue Team and is made up of volunteers who love the mountain and are engaged in mountain sports. The purpose of the department is to provide assistance and participate in search and rescue operations whenever necessary.
The department has all the necessary special equipment to intervene in mountaineering and air accidents in mountainous areas, carrying out even the most difficult operations.
The members of the Mountain Rescue Department are trained volunteers, each of whom specializes in the object they want to offer: high mountain, rock, ski patrol, canyon or mountaineering.
It has a long-term cooperation with the Air Force and the Army Air Force for over 30 years, while members are trained with trainers trained or attending seminars, trainings and exercises, and are in co-operation with similar teams from abroad, (Austria for avalanches, Serbia for ski patrol, France for mountain rescue and helicopter operations).
Corresponding sections of Mountain Rescue exist in almost every branch of the Greek Rescue Team so that there is a direct coverage of every mountainous volume of the Greek territory.
The Hellenic Rescue Team’s First Aid Department trains team members as well as members of the public, clubs, schools and businesses.
First aid instructors from HRT train new members of the team in basic first aid to an international standard. The team also covers Lesvos’ cultural and sports events, offering first aid support.
One of the most important objectives of the department is prevention, information and education of citizens, and for this reason HRT organizes first aid training sessions, workshops and conferences that are open to all, on a regular basis.
The purpose of HRT’s D.R.D department is to provide immediate and coordinated response and mobilization during massive and extensive disasters, to conduct research and rescue operations, and the continuous training of its members.
In 2017, an earthquake shook the island of Lesvos. The earthquake’s epicentre was five km south of Plomari. It had a magnitude of 6.3 and a maximum perceived intensity of IX (Violent) on the Mercali intensity scale. Extensive damage was caused on parts of southern Lesbos, where there was one fatality and 10 people were injured.
The Hellenic Rescue Team were at the centre of the island’s disaster response in the aftermath of the earthquake. They operated in the village of Vrissa, which was most affected by the earthquake, contributing to the work of the Fire Brigade and providing First Aid to residents who were in trouble.
greek Refugee crisis response
In spring/summer 2015, refugees and migrants began crossing the sea to Lesvos from Turkey Islanders recount that on some single days that year, 3000 people arrived.
The island is positioned just five kilometres at its narrowest point across the sea from the Turkish coast. This stretch of Aegean ocean is known as the Eastern Mediterranean route and is treacherous to cross.
According to the UN, 173,450 people entered Greece via sea in 2016. Most travelled on leaking, wooden boats and old rubber RIBs with defective engines. Such boats are designed to carry ten people, not one hundred, meaning the slightest movement risks capsizing the vessel and its passengers into the freezing sea.
The refugees are Syrians, Iraqis, Africans and Afghans; men, women and children fleeing conflict.
The HRT team works alongside other aid organisations such as United Rescue Aid, Refugee Rescue and Help Refugees, to pull out people out of the water, help out survivors – and pick up bodies.
The team was nominated Best Volunteer Organization in 2001 by NANSEN, won the the UN High Commissioner Mother Teresa Award in 2016, and won the HARMONY Foundation in 2017.