Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) is holding a week-long series of events from Monday, 30 May – Sunday, 5 June, aiming to reduce the number of tragic deaths from drowning that occur nationally every year.
Throughout the week, RBFRS’ Water Rescue crews and Prevention team will be visiting fire stations and venues across the county to raise awareness of how people can stay safe around water.
The week will also include a dramatic live exercise from 10am on Thursday 2 June at Mapledurham Lock, which will involve Thames River Cruises, the British Marine/Passenger Boat Association, the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter, the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART), Berkshire Lowland Search and Rescue (BLSAR), and the Environment Agency. As well as bringing the water safety message to life in a very vivid and realistic way, the exercise is a perfect opportunity to test a multi-agency response to a significant water rescue incident in real-time.
The scenario of the exercise is that a large passenger boat has collided with a second smaller boat, resulting in a fire on the first vessel, which will be dramatically recreated using smoke machines. As a result, 15 people have either fallen or jumped into the water and are now in serious difficulty, drifting perilously close to the weir.
To deal with the ‘incident’, the Water Rescue Unit and boat will be deployed, along with three fire engines, the Incident Control Unit and the Multi-role Vehicle. The crews will be faced with two main challenges on arrival: gaining access to the boat and extinguishing the fire onboard and rescuing the ‘casualties’ from the water. Assisted from the sky by the NPAS helicopter, the crews will work closely with colleagues from HART and BLSAR to search for, locate and rescue all of the ‘casualties’ before tragedy strikes.
Two very special guests will be on hand to lend their support and share their personal experiences during Water Safety Week, and will both be at the exercise. Mark Scaife’s son Michael, 20, tragically drowned in the Jubilee River in Datchet last August, after assisting his friend who had got into difficulty. Mr Scaife recently successfully campaigned to have the footbridge near where his son died renamed ‘Michael’s Bridge’, both as a memorial and to educate people about water safety and continues to raise awareness of this subject.
Rebecca Ramsay, from Lancashire, has worked tirelessly to reduce incidents of drowning since her 13-year-old son, Dylan, sadly drowned while swimming in a quarry in 2011. Ms Ramsay’s ‘Doing It For Dylan’ campaign has attracted significant awareness via social media and she is petitioning to have water safety taught in schools as part of the National Curriculum.
Jess James, Station Commander at Caversham Road Fire Station (where RBFRS’ Water Rescue Unit is based), who organised the week with Watch Manager David Newton, said: “It is impossible to imagine what Mark and Rebecca and their families have been through. Despite this, they are both committed to reducing the numbers of people who drown every year, as well as educating people in the hope that no other parents have to go through what they have had to endure. I am so grateful to them for supporting our Water Safety Week and helping us to get our message across to as many people as possible.
“Statistics show that it is often young people who drown because they aren’t aware of the risks of swimming in open water, such as rivers, lakes, canals and quarries. One of the main risks is the cold-water shock, which can have a dramatic effect on your body, such as causing you to breathe in water, make your muscles weaken, and can even cause your heart to go into abnormal rhythms, ultimately resulting in death. You also have no idea what’s beneath the surface of the water: there could be unseen currents and reeds, which could pull you under.
“We organised Water Safety Week to coincide with the half-term holiday, to try and reach as many young people as we can. Our message is very clear: be water-wise, be water safe. Throughout Water Safety Week, in line with our strategic commitment to educating people about fires and other emergencies, we will be raising awareness of how people can stay safe around water and what they can do if the worst should happen. You can get lots of advice and follow what we’re up to throughout the week on Twitter (@CavershamRoadFS and @RBFRSofficial) and Facebook (RoyalBerksFS), or search for #WaterWiseWaterSafe.”
RBFRS will be offering water safety information and advice at the following locations during Water Safety Week:
Monday, 30 May Maidenhead Fire Station Open Day
Tuesday, 31 May Wokingham Road Fire Station Open Day
Wednesday, 1 June Broad Street, Reading (supported by Rebecca Ramsay)
Thursday, 2 June Live multi-agency exercise at Mapledurham (supported by Rebecca Ramsay and Mark Scaife)
Friday, 3 June Slough Fire Station Open Day (supported by Mark Scaife)
Saturday, 4 June Dinton Pastures Country Park
Sunday, 5 June Dinton Pastures Country Park