Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service (MFRS) hosted the first session of a pilot water safety programme at Watertree Aquatics Centre on 28th April, coinciding with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Be Water Aware Week.
The focus of the Be Water Aware campaign, currently running between 25 April and 1 May 2022, is accidental drowning, with statistics showing nearly 50 percent of people who accidentally drowned in 2020 had no intention of entering the water.
MFRS designed the seven-week water safety programme, which is being piloted with Year 6 students from Windsor Street Primary School, to increase awareness in local children of the dangers of open water.
The Service’s Road & Water Safety Lead Station Manager John Maddox worked alongside MFRS Fire Control operator Kath Harkin, a qualified swimming instructor, to coordinate the programme.
“We’re proud to launch this pilot programme in Be Water Aware Week, helping these students learn how to identify risks of open water and understand their environment to keep themselves safe,” SM Maddox said.
“Here in Merseyside, we have the River Mersey, the coastline, a network of canals as well as lakes, ponds and many other open bodies of water, meaning a pilot programme such as this is particularly important for our local community.”
The sessions in the first five weeks will focus on swimming competency and confidence, with the support of Wavertree Aquatics Centre staff, before an in-class educational session in week six with SM Maddox and the community safety team.
In the programme’s final week, the students will have the chance to implement their new skills in an open water session at Liverpool Watersports Centre.
“The focus of the programme is on water safety and survival, developing key skills so if they saw somebody in trouble, they know what to do to help, or if they find themselves in trouble, they have the key skills to enable them to survive,” Kath Harkin said.
“It was really encouraging to see the group having a go at everything today and having the chance to talk to them about the dangers of water and the right information to pass on if they are in trouble and do need to contact the emergency services.”
NFCC Lead for Drowning Prevention Dawn Whittaker said the timing of the Be Water Aware campaign was important.
“NFCC work closely with fire services and partners to encourage people to be safe around water and to highlight the risk of accidental drowning.
“As the weather improves, fire services across the country, along with our colleagues in HM Coastguard and RNLI, can be faced with huge numbers of calls to help people in trouble in water.
“By raising awareness now, we hope to keep people safe and reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in water as summer approaches.”
The effects of cold water shock and not knowing how to self-rescue can cause even strong swimmers to drown. Even on warm days, the temperature in open water can remain very cold, causing a physical reaction making it difficult to control breathing, cause panic and make it difficult to swim.
If you do find yourself in difficulty in the water, don’t panic, fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back in the water and float on your back until the effects of cold water shock pass. Then you can call for help or swim to safety.
If someone is in trouble in water, call 999. At the coast, ask for the coastguard. If you are inland, ask for the Fire & Rescue Service. You should never enter the water to attempt a rescue.