Calderdale firefighters are supporting the national Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Week beginning on Monday (April 13) in a bid raise awareness of the dangers posed by open water.
In Calderdale District we have one of the largest collections of reservoirs within the West Yorkshire area.
The district also has canals and rivers that traverse through the towns and villages from Todmorden through to Halifax, Brighouse and beyond.
These differing water courses bring varied risks – from members of the public swimming in dangerous areas to fires on canal boats.
In the last five financial years West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) has carried out seven water rescues in the Calderdale district.
Assistant District Commander for Calderdale, Toby May, said: “This figure may seem like only a handful, however, one of these water rescue incidents tragically resulted in a fatality. For comparison, in the same five year period the Calderdale district recorded two fire fatalities.
“In the last week we have seen the onset of better weather and with that young and old will be getting out and about more in the great outdoors. The May Bank Holidays will provide this opportunity and it’s important that youngsters are reminded about the risks of open water before the summer school holidays start.
“The different seasons bring different risk elements to water courses. Winter brings the danger of freezing temperatures and has led to Calderdale crews undertaking dangerous rescues involving members of the public stuck on ice.
“Summer also brings its challenges, as in warm weather, the cool water of a reservoir can be dangerously deceiving. The chill factor of the water mixed with other elements, such as the consumption of alcohol, leads to members of the public getting into difficulty and requiring rescuing.”
Open water risks
Strong currents – water that looks calm can often hide strong currents beneath the surface. Reservoirs in particular can have pipes beneath the surface which draw water away, creating currents. Should you be heading to the coast, remember the open sea can also hide dangerous swells which can get even the strongest of swimmers into trouble.
The cold and hyperventilation – when deaths occur, it’s the temperature of the water which is often the most crucial factor. Reservoirs can be deep and the water in them doesn’t flow like in rivers or the sea so the temperature rarely rises much above 12 C.
Hyperventilation is the body’s natural defense in an attempt to increase oxygen in the blood to help stave off the cold. The body will then begin to shut down to protect vital organs and muscles will go into cramp, making it impossible to swim.
How deep? It’s often difficult to tell how deep open water is and youngsters can suddenly become out of their depth.
What lies beneath? It’s easy to strike your head on something below the surface and be knocked unconscious, or even become entangled in something that lies beneath and be dragged under.
Time is crucial when it comes to helping someone in trouble; if you see someone in distress in the water dial 999 immediately. Look for any buoyancy aid you may be able to throw to them – waterways often have lifeguard rings on the bankside.
WYFRS currently has five stations with a water rescue specialism – Brighouse, Bingley, Rothwell, Wakefield and Leeds. The stations taking part in the exercise are Brighouse, Mytholmroyd and Halifax.
More information can be found on our website, www.westyorksfire.gov.uk where there is also a video highlighting water safety.
Water Safety and Drowning Prevention Week is being led nationally by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA).
CFOA’s Water Safety workgroup is working with partners, including the Royal Lifesaving Society (RLSS), the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the ASA (national governing body for swimming) to develop co-ordinated campaigns to ensure more people are aware of the risks and statistics associated with fatalities in water in the UK.