Bill Deans MBE has worked for the RNLI for over 44 years.
In that time he has most certainly seen it all – from beached whales to stranded walkers, here’s what he had to say about his incredible career…
I was born in Foresterhill in Aberdeen but I spent all my holidays in Orkney. When I left school at 15 I got a job at a bakery – Mitchell and Muil. About seven months later I got a job as a bricklayer. I’ve done lots of jobs which isn’t unusual for someone who’s half Orcadian because most of them have got more than one job! In May 1972 I applied to join Aberdeen City Police and was fortunate enough to get in. The biggest path in my service was spent in the housing schemes. I covered everything – domestic disputes, fire, road traffic accidents…the list is endless really.
I started working for the RNLI in 1976. Police officers in Aberdeen were involved with the lifeboat service from the mid- to late 60s. In order to be able to crew an inshore lifeboat with a fast response, they got policemen to do it because they carried personal radios. It was the days before pagers and mobile phones!
I started off as a crewman and worked my way up from there. I’ve been with the RNLI for 44 years now. In the job I’ve often been a bit apprehensive because you’re never 100% sure what you’re going to be faced with, particularly if it’s dark. As soon as you leave the harbour entrance it’s pitch black. Most of the time though it’s very enjoyable.
I like the camaraderie and the people I work with. Nobody in the team is the same. I also like being allowed to go to sea. Because I was in Orkney for at least a third of the year every year as a kid, and most of the time I was at sea, it’s always been part of my life.
We once towed a helicopter home to Aberdeen for 15 miles. It was a Sikorsky-61 that had ditched in the sea. The guys in the helicopter evacuated into a life raft and were quickly picked up by vessels and ourselves. They were all okay. The helicopter was back flying within 14 days. It subsequently ditched into the sea off Shetland about 10 or 12 years later.
There are always funny moments in the lifeboat service. We were once called out to help a beached whale on Aberdeen Beach. We got called out and we were wondering what we were going to do. We got there and, right enough it was a whale, but it was an inflatable whale! We deflated it, rolled it up and took it away!
Karen Darke was a geology student at Aberdeen University and she was a member of the mountaineering club. She fell from the cliffs at a climbing exhibition. We helped recover her and she was taken away by helicopter. Unfortunately she had broken her back and became paraplegic, but she’s back mountaineering again and she is now a Paralympian. The fact that the incident hasn’t stopped her getting on with her life is nice to see. That’s a big part of why you work with the RNLI.
I got a letter through the post telling me I had been nominated for an MBE. I had to keep schtum about it for four months until it was officially announced. The day we got the notification, my wife and I went to the shop and straight away she went and told the shopkeeper! I said, ‘you’re not supposed to tell anyone!’ I’d given her the letter to read and just assumed she had read it all, but obviously she hadn’t! When I got the award, the Queen stood and spoke to me for two or three minutes. In the queue next to me were the three police officers who got medals for the Westminster Bridge terrorist incident and the parents of one of the victims. I took my wife, daughter and granddaughter – she’s 9 and she thoroughly enjoyed it.
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