Volunteers Help Fund Latest Water Safety Equipment
Members of Fatfield Resident's Association and volunteers who took part in the sponsored walk including Dave Irwin (second right) at the latest throwline board in Washington

A DAD WHO LOST HIS SON to drowning has helped raise funds for new water safety equipment in Washington.

Dave Irwin’s 22-year-old son Ross tragically died in December 2016 after he fell into the River Wear at the end of a night out.

A serving firefighter with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Dave was one of a number of volunteers who took part in a sponsored walk up Scafell Pike to raise cash for additional water safety equipment to add to that already in place along the banks of the River Wear.

The £3000 raised from the walk, together with £3000 match funding from Sunderland City Council’s Washington East community chest funding, has been used to pay for a new throwline board at Fatfield Slipway. Unlike traditional life buoys which can be prone to theft and vandalism, throwlines are secured in a lockbox attached to the board, which can be opened with a code available by dialling 999 and speaking to the emergency services.

Volunteers Help Fund Latest Water Safety Equipment
Sunderland City Council Cllr Tony Taylor, with Fatfield Residents Association’s John Parish and Neil Roscoe, and Tyne & Wear Fire Rescue Service’s Tommy Richardson and Dave Irwin, with the newly installed Throw Line at Fatfield Slipway, Washington.

Speaking at the start of this year’s annual Drowning Prevention Week, Dave said:

“I’m always happy to support any regional and national campaign that highlights the dangers some waterways may pose to members of the public from a recreational or social point of view.

“These crucial key messages are even more poignant to me, both as a firefighter and as a parent who has lost a beloved child to an incident of drowning. It will be six years this Christmas when we tragically lost Ross, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of him.  By sharing our experience and hitting home the importance of water safety we hope other families won’t feel the same pain as ours.

“Please keep safe and be extra vigilant around rivers and other waterways especially when walking home after enjoying a night out with friends and family.”

The board is in response to requests from residents for public rescue equipment (PRE) in the immediate vicinity of the slipway which was closed off by Sunderland City Council some years ago. Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service had also expressed concerns that despite being closed the slipway is still being used by individuals, in particular canoeists, and groups of young people to access the river during the warmer summer months.

This is the fourth throwline board to be installed in Washington where there have been a number of tragic drownings in recent years. It joins existing boards at Mount Pleasant Lake, Pattinson South Pond and opposite the Biddick Inn at Fatfield riverside.

Councillor Fiona Miller, ward councillor for Washington East, said: “Residents felt there was a real need for this, given the increasing popularity of the area and its walking routes for residents and visitors alike which is why we were happy to jointly fund it. We’re also truly grateful to Dave and to the other volunteers including former councillor Tony Taylor, who helped raise the other half of the funds for this potentially life-saving water safety equipment. Our thanks also go to all those who generously sponsored them.”

Councillor Claire Rowntree, Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “As a coastal city with attractive parks and river banks and some of the best beaches in the country, water safety is a priority for us. We want everyone who visits our coastline, ponds and river banks to have a safe and enjoyable time and we know that equipment like this can make a real difference in helping to reach someone quickly if they get into difficulty in the water.”

Group Manager Steve Thomas, of TWFRS’s Prevention and Education Department, said: “We have done a significant amount of work around water safety and Dave has done a fantastic job raising awareness about the importance of enjoying our region’s waterways safely. He has also been instrumental in introducing community throwlines and we hope more can be introduced in the future. As a Service we have also delivered throwline training to hundreds of staff at riverside businesses as part of our community responder scheme and that has already led to a number of lives being saved. As the weather heats up, more people will be entering the water and we just want to remind you to be careful. Rivers and coastlines can be unforgiving. It may look safe but you should always take precautions, look out for each other and please do not enter the water if you have been drinking.”

Drowning Prevention Week is an annual campaign run by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) to help people to enjoy water safely. It is now in its ninth year. The campaign encourages parents, schools, leisure centres and communities to use its free water safety resources, to give children the skills to enjoy a lifetime of fun in the water.

For lots of useful information on enjoying water safely, visit: www.rlss.org.uk 

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