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Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010
Criccieth lifeboatman recalls Cockermouth flood rescues

Paul Filby
Paul believes there's a spiritual element to the RNLI

When the floods hit Cockermouth, Cumbria, in November 2009, volunteers poured in to help the search and rescue effort.

Among them was Criccieth lifeboatman, Paul Filby, who features in a special Songs of Praise programme (21 February).

"It was grim up there," said Paul. "We'd passed places on the way up which were quite flooded, but it wasn't until we arrived on site first thing in the morning that we could see the full devastation.

"We crossed a bridge on the way in and there was a caravan floating down river beneath us."

With 27 years experience in the service, Paul is a member of the regional flood rescue teams, set up in response to disasters such as the Towyn flooding in 1990.

"There are different dangers and we need different kit to deal with flooding in urban areas, so they decided the country needed specific teams to respond," said Paul.

"It's a strange experience, because at sea we navigate by charts, but during flooding we navigate by street signs."

They also had to avoid underwater hazards like manhole covers or storm drains while rescuing over 100 people stranded in their houses.

Lifeboat in cockermouth
At its peak the water was about eight feet deep in parts of Cockermouth

Paul was reminded of his visit to Cockermouth a few months later, when he was asked to join in a special edition of Songs of Praise. He was delighted to be reunited with one particular person he'd helped rescue.

"Our team had gone past one row of houses a few times to see if there was anyone still trapped," he recalled. "Because of the noise of the water, we couldn't hear anyone shout, but we did finally see someone's hand sticking out of a first floor window of the end of terrace, right next to the flooded river.

"It was a very old lady who was partially paralysed and unable to look after herself. A neighbour had gone in the night before, but he was trapped, too.

"But we carried them out and onto the boat. She'd put on her Sunday best to be rescued, bless her, and kept on apologising to us for being a trouble. She was a very sweet lady."

He was also happy to be given the opportunity to return to a place he'd only previously seen under water.


"We go there when it's all upside down and then leave. We don't hear what happened afterwards," he said. "It was a tonic to go back and see how the community is pulling together."

Having been rescued himself as a teenager when his parents' boat got into trouble, Paul has always been aware that there is a spiritual side to his volunteer work.

"We have the lifeboat prayer and frequent RNLI church services, so faith is an important part of things," said Paul. "It's nice to know that when you're looking after people, there's somebody looking after you as well.

"I decided that as soon as I was old enough, I would join. The thought that someone's voluntarily there to come and help you if you're in danger is quite a special thing."

Songs of Praise, Sunday 21 February, 5pm BBC One.

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