Water rescue firefighters urge communities to stay safe around water this summer

By Angeline Sneddon

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is encouraging everyone to stay safe around the water this summer and avoid preventable tragedy.

Those who enjoy activities in or around lochs, rivers and reservoirs can get into difficulties, suffer cold water shock and risk drowning.

This danger is also faced by those who walk their dogs or enjoy leisure pursuits, such as running or cycling, as they can mistakenly fall into areas of water and also find themselves in difficulty.

Latest figures from the SFRS show that over a two-month period in summer 2019, highly trained firefighters responded to 46 water rescues across Scotland.

Figures recently released by the Royal Life Saving Society also show that in 2019 a total of 37 people in Scotland tragically lost their lives to unintentional drowning.

Crew Commander Marcus Valente, based in Inverness, said: "Even if you don't intend to enter the water whilst out this summer, you or someone you are with may inadvertently fall in. This could expose you to hidden dangers such as cold water shock, rip tides, subsurface currents, fast flowing water and snag hazards like trees and rocks.

"In the fire service, we practice techniques with a wide range of specialist equipment that enable us to perform rescues safely and effectively and I'm sad to say that we are called to use these techniques and equipment all too often."

Crew Commander Graham McCartney, is a water rescue instructor based at Polmadie Fire Station in Glasgow. He said: “Open water can be a cold and hostile place even for the most experienced swimmers among us.

“Firefighters who carry out water rescues have to complete intensive training beforehand to understand the hazards and become adept at using specialist equipment, including inflatables and throwlines.

“We not only have to bring people to safety, but we need to keep ourselves and our team members out of danger too.

“Cold water shock, mud banks under the water and undercurrents are just some of the hazards you could come up against.”

Station Commander Andy Bennett from Glenrothes Fire Station in Fife, added: “Often people make the mistake of thinking that jumping into open water is the same as swimming in an indoor pool.

“When you swim in a pool you can see under the water and it’s clean. However, visibility can be poor in rivers and lochs because of the dirt, making it hard to see hidden debris that could cause injuries or trap you.

“If you’re with someone who gets into difficulty, the best thing you can do is find something to throw to them and pull them to safety.”

Deputy Assistant Chief Officer Alasdair Perry is also reminding everyone to be aware of the risks as the service continues its campaign to support everyone to enjoy a #SaferSummer2020.

DACO Perry said: “We understand that many people will be looking forward to spending time outdoors as movement restrictions begin to ease amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But we want people to have an enjoyable experience and we would therefore ask the public to be mindful of the very real risks and keep a safe distance from unsupervised waterways.

“People can get into difficulty in the water for a number of reasons, but entering rivers, lochs or quarries for a swim is never a good idea because things can go wrong very quickly due to factors such as cold water shock which can leave someone gasping for breath.

“It is also important to note that many others, such as dog walkers and runners, can unintentionally end up in the water and we would ask them to also be aware of the dangers posed by water.”

Useful links: 
Water safety guides can be found on the Your Safety section of the SFRS website.
Scotland's Drowning Prevention Strategy 2018-2026
Information on cold water safety from the National Centre for Cold Water Safety.