South Yorkshire fire chiefs issue warning about dangers of drowning in open water

Fire chiefs in South Yorkshire have issued a warning about the dangers of open water swimming as the weather heats up.

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 11:16 am

As part of a national week of action, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue is urging people to stay out of open water this summer, unless they are part of an organised swimming group.

Firefighters hope that by joining forces with colleagues across the country, and gaining support of partners including the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK), they can reduce the number of water rescues and incidents reported last year – 144 in South Yorkshire alone.

The push also comes just less than three years since teenager Taylor Matthews, also known as Tay, drowned in Doncaster’s Skelbrooke Quarry.

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South Yorkshire teenager Taylor Matthews drowned

The 19-year-old was out with friends in July 2018 when he jumped in from a bank around 30 feet high.

As soon as he entered the water, he suffered from cold water shock, which saw his body shut down.

Watch Manager Craig Huxley, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s lead for water safety, said: “We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, what happened to Taylor was a tragedy, and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“That’s why we’re supporting this week of action, and will be campaigning around water safety over the coming months as the weather warms up.

“Our message is simple – people should stay out of the water unless they are part of an open water swimming group, of which there are several in and around South Yorkshire.

“Unless you are part of one of these groups, you shouldn’t be going anywhere near open bodies of water such as quarries, lakes and reservoirs.

“To start with, lots of these places are privately owned, so people shouldn’t be going there anyway. Then, beyond that, there are a wide range of risks with jumping into open water.

“Firstly, the water is almost always colder than it looks. As was the case with Taylor, your body can temporarily shut down from cold water shock which can stop even strong swimmers.

“Secondly, you don’t know what’s under the surface. There could be anything such as trollies, broken glass or plastic and reeds that can trap you.

“Finally, there are often hidden currents in bodies of water that can overpower even the strongest of swimmers. It’s just not worth the risk.”

In the run up to the week of action, South Yorkshire firefighters have developed a range of water safety videos that have been sent to primary and secondary schools across the county.

The service has also joined up with Royal Life Saving Society UK to develop a range of education and safety materials, including the development of a dedicated water safety website – www.syfrwater.co.uk.

Lee Heard, Charity Director for the Royal Life Saving Society UK, said: “We know how tempting it is to jump in to cool off on a hot day, but the difference between the air temperature and the water temperature will literally take your breath away and dramatically reduce your ability to self-rescue.

“Swimming with a group at a recognised site is just one of many ways you can really have fun in the water, safe in the knowledge that the set-up is designed to look out for all of you.”

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