Fire service carry out water rescue to remind youngsters about the dangers of swimming in rivers

Black Watch firefighters carry out a water rescue

Black Watch firefighters carry out a water rescue - Credit: Archant

In an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of swimming and playing in rivers and waterways, The Hunts Post spent an afternoon with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) learning about water rescue.

Firefighters from Black Watch carry out a water rescue

Firefighters from Black Watch carry out a water rescue - Credit: Archant

Firefighters, from Huntingdon’s Black Watch, mocked up a water rescue at the spot where Huntingdon teenager Rony John drowned in 2014. A video of the rescue and advice about how to help someone in the water is available on The Hunts Post website at:

CFRS expects to receive an increase in water rescue calls during the summer months and sees a second spike in the winter - usually involving people in difficulties on ice, or as the result of attempting to rescue pets from freezing water.

This year marks the fourth anniversary of the death of Rony John and efforts continue to educate youngsters and parents about the dangers of open water. The #RememberRony campaign was launched in the months after the schoolboy’s death, but have lessons been learned?

Cambridgeshire fire service group commander, Kevin Napier, told The Hunts Post he was confident the campaign had made an impact.

Firefighters from Black Watch carry out a water rescue.

Firefighters from Black Watch carry out a water rescue. - Credit: Archant

He said: “Our current data shows we recovered five people from the water in 2017/18 but they were the result of helping the police force and not saveable lives. But, we did have two injuries and those two incidents fit the Rony John demographic.”

Asked what advice he would issue to youngsters at this time of year, he added: “We want young people to see that whatever the lure and the temptation of the water it is not safe. We want them to enjoy their school holidays and that means using the amenities in town.”

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He continued: “There are many hidden dangers beneath the surface of the water. While we are enjoying the high temperatures, we have to remember the water will be extremely cold. The effects when you jump in can incapacitate the body and prevent you from getting out. My fear is that some children, either though ignorance or peer pressure will not be able to get out in an emergency.”

The depth of the Great River Ouse varies from two metres to 10m in some spots. After the Rony John incident, several shopping trolleys and an old car were found under the water. A total of 23 bodies have been recovered from water since 2009.

K denotes the number for the emergency services

K denotes the number for the emergency services - Credit: Archant

Rony John, of Tomlinson Close, Huntingdon, drowned on July 24, 2014, after jumping into the river at Riverside Green, Hartford.

It was the first day of the school summer holidays and the air temperature was about 25 degrees. Rony, a pupil at St Peter’s School, Huntingdon, and a group of friends entered the water at about 3.30pm.

Rony, who was 15, was not a strong swimmer and quickly got in difficulty.

Firefighter Paul Whittaker at the river where Roby John drowned.

Firefighter Paul Whittaker at the river where Roby John drowned. - Credit: Archant

Some of his friends made valiant attempts to rescue him, but were undoubtedly hampered by the water temperature, which was probably about 10 degrees, a fast current, weeds and the general panic and confusion.

Many were so traumatised after the event, they were unable to give evidence, in person, at Rony’s inquest a year later.

Firecrews searched the water for Rony for several hours, but at 2am the following day a team from the Spartan Rescue service discovered his lifeless body on the riverbed

Rony’s funeral took place in Kerala, India, where he grew up. A memorial service at the riverside, close to where the tradegy happened, took place on August 18, 2014. A two-minute silence was also observed.

In the months after the teenager’s death, several safety initiatives were put in place to prevent further tragedies.

In June, 2015, Rony’s shocking death was central to an education programme delivered to all schools in Cambridgeshire by the fire service.

The #RememberRony campaign was launched and annual visits to secondary schools in the run up to the summer break continue.

Primary school children receive the information at safety zone events.

Huntingdon councillor, Patrick Kadewere, on behalf of the Huntingdon Alliance for Indians, asked Huntingdonshire District Council members about the possibility of erecting warning signs at Riverside Green.

A warning sign and memorial bench, with a plaque for Rony, are now in place.

Cambridgeshire fire service has also purchased water camera equipment which can help with a search for people who are under the water.

Firefighter Paul Whittaker, who took part in the rescue attempt for Rony, shared his thoughts and said: “When the sun is shining, it looks like harmless fun, but the consequences can be devastating, not only for the family of the victim but also for all the people who were there that day, including Rony’s friends who tried to save him.

“Our advice would always be to swim in pools where there are trained lifeguards.”

The Dangers of Open Water

* The water is often far deeper that people think.

* It is also very cold, and can quickly cause cramp and breathing difficulties.

* It may contain hidden rubbish and debris, such as shopping trolleys and broken glass, which can cause injuries.

* Water can be polluted and make people ill.

* During the school holidays, increasing numbers of children are drowning, according to national data.

* On average, there are 50 tragedies each year in the UK.

* Even paddling or jumping in may cause injuries as there may be unseen hazards.

* If someone is struggling in the water, find something to throw in, even a football could help keep them afloat.

* Call 999 with clear details of your location. Look for the information boards, which have a letter on them.

* Send someone to the nearest road to flag down the emergency services .

* Place something on the bank to mark the spot where the person was last seen.