Ashleigh to receive award for courageous sea rescue

Ashleigh Fairs
Ashleigh Fairs

AN AMBULANCE technician, who risked his life to rescue a young man from the sea, is to receive an award for his bravery.

Ashleigh Fairs, 33, of Vicarage Road, thought nothing of rushing into freezing water and crashing waves on a dark January evening to save the non-swimmer swept off rocks near Warrior Square, St Leonards, contracting hypothermia in the process. What is more, he was back at work later that evening.

Ashleigh has won a Royal Humane Society award for his actions after being nominated by South East Coast Ambulance Service, it was announced this week.

He said: “It was nice of them to recognise it but it wasn’t done for that reason. You just have that mentality, you can’t just stand around and do nothing - the sea would have consumed him.

“The adrenaline kept me going, but it was terrifying.”

Ashleigh, who has been in the job for around 12 years, and has previously worked as a lifeguard, told how on January 27 along with a colleague, he responded to an emergency call at around 9pm concerning a 22-year-old who was stranded around 80 metres from the shore.

“We could see him in the distance screaming and shouting. I don’t think his mates realised how serious it was; the tide was coming in quickly, and you couldn’t walk out safely.”

“Me and my colleague decided to empty our pockets in case we had to go in the water. We kept the ambulance running, and got out all the blankets.”

The RNLI was alerted, but the size of the waves meant that the lifeboat could not get close enough to the rocks.

Ashleigh said: “Eventually he was just knocked off into the sea.

“I just had to make a decision. I went in to shoulder height, he surfaced in front of me and I grabbed him.

“The cold of the sea was paralysing, it felt like everything shut down for a second.

“It took all my energy to get him and myself back to shore. He was conscious but hypothermia had kicked in and he was a dead-weight.”

Once back on shore, the man was carried to the ambulance, where he was wrapped in foil blankets. His temperature was 32 degrees, dangerously low compared to a normal temperature of 36.9 degrees.

Ashleigh’s own temperature was just one degree higher at 33, meaning that he too had hypothermia.

The young man was treated at the Conquest Hospital before being discharged hours later, and meanwhile after changing his clothes and having a cup of tea, Ashleigh returned to work.

Dick Wilkinson, secretary of the Royal Humane Society, said: “But for Mr Fairs’ swift and brave action this man could easily have died.

“Without a thought for his own safety he went into the water after him in what can only be described as hazardous conditions.