Policeman inspired to create water safety signs after dealing with Rony John tragedy in Hartford

Pictured front are Inspector Matt Bill (left) and Sergeant Mike Jackman (right) with, behind, from l

Pictured front are Inspector Matt Bill (left) and Sergeant Mike Jackman (right) with, behind, from left, crew commander Dan Heathcote and firefighters Ross Turner, Robin Hodgson and Becky Freeman. - Credit: Archant

A police officer has devised a water safety scheme using signs to help pinpoint locations of potential drowning emergencies.

People who get into trouble in waterways are often youngsters, whose friends dial 999 but do not know exactly where they are, leading to a delay in help getting to them.

However, working with the fire and ambulance services, Sergeant Mike Jackman, of Cambridgeshire Police, has identified risky sites that could be used by young swimmers and signs have been put up so callers can precisely identify the site to 999 operators.

One sign has been put up at the site where 15-year-old Rony John drowned in the river at Hartford, Huntingdon, in July last year.

Sgt Jackman, who was one of the first on the scene when Rony went missing and went on to be the liaison officer with his family, said: “I believe this scheme has the potential to save lives and would be of benefit in any area with open water: rivers or lakes.

“There are always difficult-to-reach locations and young people tend to swim in the same places year after year.

“We are starting off with six locations but signs can be added or removed depending on where they are needed. We will not be making the location of all the signs public because we do not want to encourage swimming anywhere it is risky.

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“Every year children drown in open waters and anything we can do to prevent this is worth doing.”

The signs, which Sgt Jackman organised for free, will encourage people to dial 999 in an emergency. Crucially, each carries a letter which relates to a specific location.

The details of each site have been added to police, ambulance and fire service control systems so whichever service takes the call can then notify the others.

Watch Commander Ian Smith, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s lead on the project, said: “Every second counts in water rescue situations.

“These signs and the work that has gone on behind the scenes will enable our specially trained in-water crews to locate and respond to life-threatening situations quicker and more effectively.

“Firefighters are best equipped and trained for water rescues but we would rather members of the public think about the hazards of open water and therefore avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations in Cambridgeshire’s waterways. This is why we have pledged to deliver water safety education to every school in Cambridgeshire as part of our #RememberRony campaign.

“Water safety, especially during the warmer months, is something we want to drive home to residents.”

Kevin Larter, dispatch team leader for East of England’s Ambulance Service Trust’s Emergency Operations Centre for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, said: “Historically emergency call handlers are often faced with panicked callers who are unsure of their exact location or the nearest access to an incident.

“This can cause a delayed response, and some confusion between attending emergency services control rooms.

“I would like to thank Sergeant Jackman for coming up with this worthwhile initiative. He has applied a positive approach by implementing this scheme after attending a very difficult and harrowing incident.

“I am certain that this signage will vastly improve any future responses to the locations he has identified.

“This signage will also hopefully act as a reminder of the dangers of open waterways and people will be responsible and remain safe when having fun at these locations.”