Water rescue exercise delivered on River Aire in Leeds following rise in rescues and accidental drowning deaths

A water rescue exercise was delivered on the River Aire in Leeds following a rise in drowning fatalities and water rescues in West Yorkshire.

By Tom Coates
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 4:39 pm

In 2021, 23 accidental drowning fatalities were recorded in Yorkshire and the Humber, eight of which were in West Yorkshire.

This number was four higher than the three-year average.

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In 2021, 23 accidental drowning fatalities were recorded in Yorkshire and the Humber, eight of which were in West Yorkshire. Credit: Tony Johnson

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service attended 57 water rescue incidents in the same 12-month period.

The exercise on the River Aire was delivered as part of a campaign called Be Water Aware, which aims to reduce the number of incidents and educate people.

Jemma Burgess, district prevention manager at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, said, “Nearly 50 per cent of people who accidentally drowned in 2020 had no intention of entering the water.

"Cold water shock, the pull of flowing water and other hidden dangers can cause even the strongest swimmers to drown.

“Even on a warm day the temperature in open water can remain very cold, causing a physical reaction which can make it difficult to control breathing and make it difficult to swim.”

Figures have also shown that a high proportion of casualties in the water are males under the age of 20 and in West Yorkshire last year, 89 per cent of accidental drowning fatalities were male.

Educational talks delivered by officers include the use of a water safety flume simulator, which educates people on different bodies of water.

The bodies of water include waterfalls, stepping stones, weirds and culverts.

Chris Bell, Assistant District Commander, said, “If someone is in trouble in the water, call 999 and ask for fire, as we have the specialist rescue equipment and are the quickest route to avoid delays and save vital minutes.”

“Understand the risks when you’re around open water, and if you do get into trouble, float to live: Lean back into the water, extend your arms and control your breathing, then call and ask for help. Never enter the water to attempt a rescue.

“We’re lucky to have lots of open water sites around our region and this can be enjoyed if people understand how to stay safe.”

Yorkshire Water, the Canal and River Trust and the RNLI are all involved in the Be Water Aware campaign.

Figures show that most accidental drowning deaths occur when people take part in recreational activities such as walking, running, swimming and jumping in water.

In May 2020, Farnley Academy teacher Lewis Howlett died at the age of 25 after getting into difficulty swimming in water off Redcote Lane in Kirkstall.

His mum Joanne recently spoke to the YEP about the importance of educating people about the danger of water.

Earlier this year, she said: "I wouldn't want any family to go through the pain and heartbreak that we are going through."

"We have told our story to many young people, my daughter Olivia works in a school and warns all of her students of the dangers of swimming in open water.

"Even if you can swim you have no idea what is happening beneath the surface, or how dramatically the extreme cold can affect your body.

"I am certain that if Lewis had seen the campaign or had spoken to somebody about the dangers, he would still be with us."

Figures courtesy of National Fire Chiefs Council