'If someone is in danger of going in the water, don’t hesitate to get us out'

Specialist firefighters responsible for saving the lives of people who end up in the water are urging the public to be aware of the dangers of entering rivers and reservoirs.

Monday, 20th April 2020, 5:21 pm
Updated Monday, 20th April 2020, 5:22 pm

As the National Fire Chief's Council launches its week-long Be Water Aware campaign to reduce the risk of accidental drowning, firefighters here in Leeds say nobody should hesitate to call upon their help if they fear someone could end up in trouble.

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West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is called out to around 40 water rescues every year, although the figure topped 90 in 2015/16 as the Boxing Day floods wreaked destruction in Leeds and beyond.

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Firefighter Hassan Abrar and crew manager Frank McNeill are part of the specialist water rescue team based at Leeds Fire Station. Picture: Gary Longbottom

Crew manager Simon Browne leads one of the teams at Leeds Fire Station who are trained to carry out these types of rescues.

“The risk to the casualty is the cold once they’re in the water, even in the summer months," he said.

"If they’ve been in for any length of time - a few minutes and your body starts to shut down."

He said the first moments when a person enters the water can be crucial to their survival as many go into shock due to the cold temperatures.

Firefighter Hassan Abrar, who has completed specialist water rescue training, demonstrates how to use a throwline. Picture: Gary Longbottom

"When you go in, your body wants to take that first breath," he said. "If you breathe water in, you’re in real difficulty."

And once people enter the River Aire in Leeds city centre, the high sides and walls can make it even harder to get back out as they are pulled along by the current.

It is why a series of throwlines were installed on both sides of the river between Neville Street and Asda House by the council in April 2017.

On discovering someone in the water, members of the public can follow instructions on the marker board and access the potentially life-saving kit.

Throwlines like this one were installed on both sides of the River Aire in Leedsbetween Neville Street and Asda Housein April 2017. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Fire crews in Leeds regularly carry out training with bar staff at venues near the river so that they are confident in using the throwlines if ever needed, although the first step is still to call 999.

Mr Browne said a lot of people end up in the water accidentally while running or cycling alongside the canal or if they have had too much to drink on a night out.

But on other occasions, crews are called to the aid of people who have intentionally entered the water in an attempt to end their lives.

Fellow crew manager Frank McNeill said: "We’ve had a few incidents recently where people haven’t been in the water. It can still be where the caller was worried.

"Any rescue at all - whether it’s a water rescue or a person trapped - we’re the service."

He added that one of the major challenges of a water rescue is securing an accurate location, particularly because the place a person enters the water can often be away from main roads or landmarks.

It is one of the reasons why he advises people to download the What Three Words app onto their mobile phones, allowing them to give a specific reference to emergency services when time is of the essence.

"If someone is in danger of going in the water, don’t hesitate to get us out," Mr Browne added. "We would rather be there. Once they’re in the water, they haven’t got long usually when it’s fast flowing and it’s cold."

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