The Dad of a 22-year-old who drowned in the River Wear on a night out is urging young people to stay safe when venturing near open water.
Ross Irwin was pulled from the River Wear on Christmas Eve 2016 following what his dad Dave believes was a tragic accident.
Ross, who worked at the Child Benefit Centre at Waterview Park, Washington, had been on a night out after work on December 23 and was last seen telling friends he was going to get a taxi to Sunderland.
Dad Dave believes the popular 22-year-old fell into the water after losing his footing on the riverbank where he had gone to spend a penny. His body was found about 100 yards down river.
And he is calling on young people to take extra care near open water as the city heads into the last couple of weeks of the summer holidays and the run up to the August Bank holiday.
Speaking of the devastating consequences his son’s loss has had on his family, Dave, a Temporary Watch Manager at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said:
“Having lost my son Ross to drink drowning in Dec 2016, I do not want any young person to become a drowning victim anywhere in the UK.
“Of all the people who drown each year half had no intention of going near the water they drowned in, including Ross.
“The pain and heartache your family will go through if you were to drown is totally unbearable, it is a life changing experience and something your family will never get over.
“The pain never eases and never goes away, you learn to live with the pain of losing a loved one knowing they should still be with you.
“I want to send this message to as many people as possible because this can happen to anyone. Please take note of the safety messages and please please stay safe around open water.
Dave’s message has been echoed by Councillor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Communities and Culture.
Cllr Kelly said:
“Drowning is the third highest accidental cause of death in young people in the UK, so it’s really important that young people, their parents, grandparents and the wider community are aware of the dangers and think about whether it’s safe before they venture into the water.
“We’re lucky enough to have some of the best beaches in the country along with some very attractive river banks too and we want everyone who visits them to have a fantastic time. But with the fine weather we’re also reminding people of how they can help themselves and their families to stay safe.
“For example swimming in the sea is very different to swimming in a swimming pool and it’s very easy to get caught in a rip current that pulls you out to sea or to get cut off, so it’s important to choose a lifeguarded beach and to swim between the red and yellow flags.
“Rivers and stretches of open water can also look very inviting in warm weather. But there can be all sorts of hidden dangers just beneath the surface from weeds and hidden obstacles to currents which can pull even the strongest swimmers under.
“No-one wants to see their loved ones go through what Ross’s family has gone through so I’d urge everyone to follow the advice of the RNLI in staying safe.
“Sadly, we have had a number of fatalities in the city in recent years including Ross’s tragic death and we know all too well how easy it is to get into difficulty in the water, which is why continue to work with partners like the RNLI and RLSS and the emergency services to promote water safety messages.”
Ross’s story is particularly pertinent to the RNLI’s latest Respect the Water campaign which is calling on young men to share survival skills with their friends to save more lives.
This year the charity is calling on the public to practice the ‘float’ survival skill – a simple skill that could mean the difference between life and death – and to share this lifesaving knowledge with others.
Nick Ayers, RNLI Community Safety Partner, said:
“Losing someone to drowning is a shattering experience, so I am very pleased several people said the RNLI’s Respect the Water ‘float’ advice helped them survive in a dangerous situation in the water last year.
“We are hopeful that our safety campaigning and education work will contribute to a reduction in coastal deaths, but we cannot get complacent. It’s vital we all keep sharing lifesaving advice. One drowning, is one too many.
“A worrying statistic is that male deaths made up 91% of the fatalities at the north east coast in 2017, with many of them ending up in the water unexpectedly. It clearly highlights much more must be done to help men keep themselves safe around water.”
The RNLI is also advising:
– If you see someone struggling in the water at the coast, don’t go in after them, instead call 999 or 112 immediately and ask for the Coastguard. You shouldn’t enter the water yourself as you may also end up in danger without proper rescue training, equipment and experience. If you want to help, find something that floats and throw it to them, or shout instructions on how to float until rescue services arrive.
– If you find yourself in trouble in cold water, fight your instincts to swim hard or thrash about as this could lead to breathing in water and drowning. Instead, relax and FLOAT on your back, until you regain control of your breathing. A recommended floating position is to lean back in the water, extend your arms and legs and keep your airway clear.
Sunderland has had an active Water Safety Partnership since 2015 which works to raise awareness of the dangers of swimming in open water with an annual water safety programme.
The City Council’s annual water safety programme has also seen:
• Water safety lessons delivered to more than 150,000 children in primary schools in Sunderland since 1994. The RNLI also deliver practical water safety sessions with their Hit the Surf programme.
• A dvd put together with the help of two schoolgirls who tragically died at Fatfield warning young people of the dangers of open water. This was well received and viewed by over 2k people on YouTube.
• Backing for the RLSS Don’t Drink and Drive campaign.
• Hard-hitting water safety radio adverts put together with the help of local schools to educate people about the risks around water.
• Lifeguards and extensive water safety signage at three beaches including Roker, 7 days a week from the end of May to mid September, with patrols of up to 9 lifeguards on duty from 10.00am – 6.00pm each day.
• A boat patrolling the River Wear from the river mouth to Fatfield from Easter to September every weekend, school holidays and public holidays, from 11am to 7pm, giving safety advice and guidance to water users including those with inflatables.
• The installation earlier this year of a new lifesaving throw line dedicated to the memory of Ross Irwin at Fatfield riverside as an addition to existing lifesaving equipment.
The Water Safety Partnership is led by Sunderland City Council and its members include the RNLI, the RLSS, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Northumbria Police and Everyone Active.