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Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service calls for people to ‘Be Water Aware’ as temperatures begin to rise

RBFRS water rescue team on exercise

As the weather begins to improve, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) is joining other fire services across the UK and asking people to stay safe when spending time in and around water.

The call comes as part of the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) ‘Be Water Aware’ campaign which runs from 24 – 30 April 2023. The campaign is warning people of the risk of accidentally drowning.

Last year, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to 36 water rescue incidents involving people getting into difficulty in Berkshire’s waterways – an increase of 50 per cent since 2020. Of those, 42% of incidents occurred in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead – the highest number throughout Berkshire – followed by 28% in Reading. Over the last five years, there have been 148 water rescue incidents in Berkshire.  

In the UK overall there were 277 deaths from accidental drowning in 2021 in inland and coastal locations. Forty percent of people who lost their lives had no intention of entering the water*, with slips, trips and falls being the main cause of them entering the water.

Commenting on this year’s Be Water Aware campaign, Neil Whiteman, Safety Education Coordinator, RBFRS, said: “Many people underestimate the risk of jumping into water where unseen hazards and cold water can endanger even the strongest swimmers. Even on a warm day the temperature in open water can remain very cold, causing cold water shock, a physical reaction which can make it difficult to control breathing, cause panic and make it difficult to swim. Drowning is preventable and even one drowning is one too many.

“If you find yourself in trouble try not to panic and remember ‘Float To Live’. Lean back in the water and spread your arms and legs to stay afloat and control your breathing. It can take up to 90 seconds for the effects of cold water shock to pass. When you have done so, call out for help or try and swim to safety.

“It’s important people call for help rather than entering the water to attempt a rescue as this can often result in emergency services needing to find and rescue more people from the water.

“We are urging people to take care around Berkshire’s waterways this year. If you do see someone in difficulty remember ‘Call, Tell and Throw – Call 999, tell the person to float on their back and throw something to them to help them float.”

Water safety awareness

To help raise public awareness around water safety, RBFRS will be supporting several initiatives throughout the Royal County this year. These include delivering water safety advice at local community events and fire station open days, providing water safety education to secondary school children, stepping up multi-agency patrols in known high-risk areas and providing face-to-face advice to people taking part in leisure activities close to or in the water.

Dawn Whittaker, NFCC’s lead for drowning prevention, said: “Most people would be shocked to hear the number of lives lost simply because people were spending time in and around water. These deaths are preventable, so we ask everyone to be water aware.

“NFCC works closely with fire services and partners to encourage people to be safe around water and to highlight the risk of accidental drowning. As the weather improves fire services across the country, along with our colleagues in HM Coastguard and RNLI, can be faced with huge numbers of calls to help people in trouble in water. By raising awareness now, we hope to keep people safe and reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in water as summer approaches.”

For more information on water safety, visit the RBFRS website.

Water safety sign near river at Lake End Road