Cold water kills: Cooling down in a reservoir could be a fatal mistake

The warning sign at Horbury Lagoon.
The warning sign at Horbury Lagoon.

As the first signs of summer arrive in West Yorkshire the thought of taking a dip to cool off in our waterways, rivers and reservoirs could be tempting.

But now that summer is fast approaching West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and Yorkshire Water want to make the public aware of the serious dangers of open water and the depths.

The warning sign erected by family and friends of Stuart Kemp who drowned in Horbury Lagoon.

The warning sign erected by family and friends of Stuart Kemp who drowned in Horbury Lagoon.

‘Cold Water Kills’ is the slogan for a water safety awareness campaign - and fire chiefs are determined to get the message across this year to stop a simple outdoor swim turning into a terrible tragedy.

Ian Bitcon, Area Manager for West Yorkshire Fire Service, said: “We are the only land locked county that appears in the top 10 of places that have over 30 open water related deaths over a three year period and we find those figures really shocking.

“Forty four per cent of people who actually went into the water and drowned didn’t do it intentionally. The point we are trying to make is when you actually go into the water it can affect you very quickly.”

The temperature of water in reservoirs is as low as 12 degrees C and can drop your body temperature very quickly resulting in delayed body response times and, in extreme cases, death.

“If you happen to see someone in the water in difficulty then the thing to do is dial 999 and not to go into the water yourself,” Mr Bitcon continued.

“We have got specialist equipment that we use and that is on all our front line appliances so this enables every single crew in West Yorkshire to carry out some form of water rescue.

“We have also got swift water rescue crews who are trained to a higher level and have equipment to a higher standard. As we are able to supply some sort of resource very quickly our response time to water rescues are the same as any other incident.”

Yorkshire Water is in charge of the reservoirs around the county and is supporting the campaign with the fire service.

The company has been putting up warning posters and signs around reservoirs with the campaign’s Cold Water Kills slogan to raise awareness.

Tom Underwood, of Yorkshire Water, said: “We were doing demonstrations at Ogden reservoir in Halifax; Thornes Park and the River Aire to support West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and to raise awareness particularly among young people of the unseen and deadly dangers of swimming in reservoirs.

“It may seem a reasonably safe thing to do but actually reservoirs are dangerous and it can quickly turn into a life threatening situation if someone does go for a swim in them.

“Temperature in reservoirs are low and can cause the body to go into cold water shock which can cause death along with hypothermia and drowning.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service has released statistics which show there have been 33 water based fatalities in the last three years.

“We work really closely with local communities to get the message out; doing lots of talks in schools to highlight to young people about the risks of swimming in reservoirs and how dangerous they can be,” he added

“Our message is to people to please stay out of the water and pay attention to our ‘Cold Water Kills’ safety signs.”

Over the years there has been a number of deaths at reservoirs across the county.

In 1995 11-year-old Tracey Pattison plunged through the ice at Hemsworth Water Park after trying to save a friend’s pet dog two days after Christmas Day.

Nineteen-year-old Stuart Kemp also drowned in 1995 while swimming with friends in Horbury Lagoon near Wakefield which has also claimed many other lives. Bosnian-born student Denis Nadarevic, 16, drowned when he became trapped in a car which slid down a muddy bank into the water in 2004.

In 2009 Jack Chapman took a dip in Widdop Reservoir near Hebden Bridge to cool off. The 17-year-old started to struggle and drowned in the middle of the water as he and his friends were swimming from one side to another.

Watch Commander, Alex Macfarlane, who was at a water rescue demonstration at Ogden Reservoir, Halifax, explained just what it takes to carry out a rescue for someone in need of their services.

He said: “Situations on water rescues vary every time we attend a new one. With all the equipment we have to put on and the scenarios we’re presented with, we have to make some very dynamic decisions and run through an achievable and tactical plan to try and make the outcome a successful one.”

Crews responding to incidents have to change into a dry suit followed by a wet suit, a pair of waterproof boots, gloves, a water rescue helmet and a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).

The 42-year-old continued: “In the past we have had to do water rescues on the tops above Todmorden and we have actually had to use equipment that the farmers provide to get to the locations. This means that we have had to make quick decisions on what equipment we should actually take before we even get there. A lot of the time the situations we find ourselves in are really challenging.

“We also assist the police in body retreaval situation and we have been called upon quite a lot of times in the last year to retrieve bodies from crime scenes. The West Yorkshire response for underwater search has now gone regional and is based over in East Yorkshire.”

“But I get a lot of pleasure out of working with the crew and being under pressure and all the family are proud of what I do as a job.”

Shocking statistics:

Statistics released by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue show shocking fatality numbers.

Between 2010 and 2013 there was 33 water-related deaths in West Yorkshire placing the county ninth in the UK and the only land-locked county in the top ten.

Other statistics show that 189 people have been rescued from water between 2011 and 2016 resulting in 44 of these to have been left injured.

Most of these people who were injured are aged between 31 and 60-years-old.

During the same period eight people died in emergencies attended by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Alastair Harvey, Recreation Advisor at Yorkshire Water, points out: “The water in reservoirs is below 12 degrees C all year round and exposure to this cold water can lead to shock, hyperventilation, increased blood pressure, breathing difficulties and heart attacks.”

Nationally drowning is seen as one of the leading causes of accidental death in the UK.

In 2014 302 people accidently drowned and 44 per cent of those were going about everyday activities such as walking or running near water.

The Chief Fire Officers Association have set out aims to reduce the number of drownings in the UK by 50 percent by 2026.

East Sussex was first on the list of water-related deaths between 2010 and 2013 with 158 and number ten on the list was Cheshire with 30.

The Water Safety awareness campaign was run by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and Yorkshire Water which looks after 115 reservoirs across the county.