On an unusually cold day in early June, a large passenger boat collides with a second, smaller boat, on the River Thames near Mapledurham Lock in Reading. The collision has caused a fire on the larger boat, which is now full of terrified passengers, fearing for their lives.
To make things worse, 15 people have either fallen in or jumped into the water and are now in serious difficulty, drifting dangerously close to the weir.
Cue Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s (RBFRS) water rescue team, who face two main challenges: gaining access to the boat and extinguishing the fire on board, and rescuing the casualties from the water.
Assisted from the sky by the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter, the crews need to work closely with colleagues from the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) and Berkshire Lowland Search and Rescue (BLSAR) to search for, locate and rescue all of the casualties before tragedy strikes.
Luckily, this dramatic scenario was just an exercise, held as part of RBFRS’ first Water Safety Week during half-term (Monday 30 May – Sunday 5 June). The aim of the week was to reduce the number of tragic deaths from drowning that occur nationally every year.
Throughout the week, RBFRS’ water rescue crews and Prevention team visited fire station and venues across the county to raise awareness of how people can stay safe around water. They also took along the ‘drown tank’, an innovative visual aid created by the crews at Caversham Road Fire Station, which brings to life the dangers of swimming near weirs.
Two very special guests also lent their support to the week, sharing their own personal experiences of the potential dangers of open water.
Mark Scaife’s son Michael, 20, tragically drowned in the Jubilee River in Datchet last August, after assisting his friend who had got into difficulty. Mr Scaife recently successfully campaigned to have the footbridge near where his son died renamed ‘Michael’s Bridge’, both as a memorial and to educate people about water safety. Crews from Slough Fire Station attended the bridge naming ceremony on Friday 27 May.
Rebecca Ramsay, from Lancashire, has worked tirelessly to reduce incidents of drowning since her 13-year-old son, Dylan, sadly drowned while swimming in a quarry in 2011. Ms Ramsay’s ‘Doing It For Dylan’ campaign has attracted significant awareness via social media and she is petitioning to have water safety taught in schools as part of the National Curriculum.
Station Commander Jess James, who organised the week with Watch Manager David Newton, said: “Despite the awful weather, the week was a fantastic success and gave us the opportunity to reach huge numbers of people with our water safety message.
“One of the biggest achievements was our use of social media for the campaign. We created our own hashtag – #WaterWiseWaterSafe – and used this to really make our campaign stand out. Using this really helped us to spread the word and reach more people than ever before.
“Between the @RBFRSofficial and @CavershamRoadFS Twitter accounts, we gained an incredible 234,372 impressions, which is the number of times a user is served a Tweet in their timeline or search results. We also achieved a total of 8,681 engagements, which is the amount of replies, mentions, likes and retweets we received.
“This was the first time we have run our own Water Safety Week and we are now planning on how we can build on this for next year.”
For more information, go to www.rbfrs.co.uk