Ballymena’s Station Commander Alan Barr & Inspector Siobhan Watt issue water safety message
Summer is almost upon us and Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) wants everyone to have a safe and enjoyable one.
During the summer months, people enjoy water related activities more. However, these activities present hazards.
In 2020 alone, fourteen people died due to accidental water related incidents in Northern Ireland. Ten of these fatalities occurred during recreation activities such as swimming, running and diving.
Thankfully, a few simple precautions and a little extra care could keep you and your family safe to help prevent such water related deaths.
Station Commander Alan Barr from Ballymena District, NIFRS, provides some simple advice on how to keep yourselves safe when enjoying the water.
Station Commander Barr says:
“Firstly, it’s important to be aware of the hazards associated with water related activities. These are:
Slippery banks – the banks on rivers and lakes can be very slippery, making it hard to exit the water;
Waste – unfortunately, some people dump their rubbish into our rivers. This can harm you if you touch sharp or entangling objects;
Pollution – some waterways contain dangerous chemicals which can hurt you;
Currents – underwater currents can be very strong and sweep you away from safety within seconds;
Cold temperatures – open water in the UK remains cold all year round;
Water levels – the depth of open water changes drastically. This can make wading treacherous, and means you should never dive in without knowing the water’s depth; and
No lifeguard – swimming in the great outdoors means that you may be very isolated and that nobody will be there to help if things go wrong.
“Secondly, he offers tips on how to respond if you do find yourself or someone else in danger in the water:
Cold water shock
Cold water shock refers to the reaction of the body to entering cold water. Cold water shock can have a dramatic effect on your body, such as causing you to breathe in water, make your muscles weaken, and can even cause your heart to go into abnormal rhythms, ultimately resulting in death; and
Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water so there is a significant risk of it occurring when entering the water at any time of year, even in the summer. Average UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12°C;
If you find yourself in trouble in the water
If you find yourself in trouble in the water, float to live. Do not panic, float on your back until the effects of cold water shock pass. When the cold water shock has passed, you can then swim to the edge or call for help.
If someone else is in trouble in the water
If someone else falls into the water, call 999 straight away and ask to speak to the fire service and ambulance;
Never enter the water to try and save someone, even if you are a strong swimmer. Shout to the person in the water ‘swim to me;' and
The water can be disorientating and this can give them a focus. Depending on where you are there might be lifebelts or throw bags – use them. If they are attached to a rope, make sure you have secured or are holding the end of the rope so you can pull them in.
“Finally, if you are partaking in water activities, these tips will help you enjoy it safely:
Spending time in the water
If you are thinking of entering the water, consider your exit point, and any emergency exits, before you get in;
Do not jump into open water, often referred to as 'tombstoning', as this can cause potentially fatal cold water shock, even on the warmest day; and
Think twice before swimming in open water such as rivers or lakes. You have no idea what's beneath the surface, there could be unseen currents and reeds, which could pull you under.
Open water swimming and paddle boarding
Swimming in a group or better still at an organised event is a safer way of starting open water swimming, never swim alone;
Start slowly, build up strength and experience gradually. You will develop some resistance to cold water but cold water shock always remains a danger, get out before you get cold and make sure you have warm clothes to put on;
Moving water will rob you of heat 250 times more quickly than still water;
If you jump in, you never know what might be hidden just below the surface, if the water is very cold sudden immersion can cause a gasp reflex causing you to inhale water on contact;
Wear a brightly coloured swim hat and consider a safety buoy to make yourself more visible;
Always consider your exit point, and any emergency exits, before you get in the water;
Make sure you are fit and well;
When you first start open water swimming make sure you are not alone in case of an emergency or the unexpected cold water shock for the first time of going into the water; and
Do a risk assessment on the water for the dangers present, it pays to know any dangers before you go swimming.
Spending time near the water
When running or walking next to the water, stay clear of the edges. Riverbanks and cliff edges may be unstable and give way - particularly after bad weather;
Look out for trip or slip hazards - pay attention to your footing;
Don't walk or run next to water if levels are high;
If you are walking the dog and they end up in the water, do not go in after them; and
“Don’t enter the water if you have been drinking and avoid walking routes near water if you are under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol affects your ability to get yourself out of trouble, so find another route home instead. Look out for your friends and make sure they get home safely.”
PSNI Inspector Siobhan Watt added:
"By taking these precautions and being mindful of the real risks posed by our rivers and waterways, you will be well prepared to safely enjoy the water this summer. "But I'd also like to highlight the importance of the life-saving equipment, including the life rings, beside our waterways including Rivers Braid and Maine. This equipment is there for a reason. It could mean the difference between life and death for someone in difficulty in the water. “For a person to fall into the water and not have access to life-saving equipment does not bear thinking about. But these items are often vandalised or removed from their stands. Those involved in the removal or destruction of this vital equipment need to carefully examine their actions. Think about what you are doing and the possible tragic consequences. “Anyone with any information in relation to this type of offence should contact police on 101."
Mary Watson, vice-chair of Mid and East Antrim PCSP, said:
"Mid and Antrim PCSP is delighted to support this education initiative around water safety. As Vice-Chair of the PCSP I want everyone to stay safe this summer and to follow the advice of our colleagues in NIFRS and PSNI."