People working in pubs, cafes and other venues near to rivers are to be given special training to help stop people drowning amid concerns for customers flocking back as the Covid lockdown eases.
Firefighters are being trained by the RNLI to go into businesses and show staff how to get people out of the water safely. The move comes after two people died in the Thames within days of each other last week.
Tributes were paid to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, who was hailed a “hero” after he died attempting to save a woman on Saturday. Meanwhile, police searching for a 13-year-old schoolboy thought to have fallen from Tower Bridge said on Thursday they had found a body in the Thames. Their deaths have placed renewed focus on the dangers inherent to the UK’s waterways.
While the RNLI said those deaths and the expected surge of people returning to pubs and cafes had not prompted the launch of the programme, they had made the need for it more pressing.
“The tragic incident at the weekend is a terrible reminder of what can happen if people do get into difficulty in the Thames and our thoughts are with the friends and family of Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, who sadly lost his life in an act of bravery,” said Brin Powell, the station commander at Lambeth river fire station in London.
“People have been shut up indoors for months and we completely understand that as the weather warms up and pubs reopen, they want to get out and enjoy the entertainment our great city has to offer.”
The RNLI already speaks to businesses about water safety on a small scale but is calling in fire brigades as part of a concerted effort to educate publicans and other hospitality business owners on how to possibly save the life of a customer.
It has held sessions with fire brigade staff in Tyne and Wear, south Wales, Devon and Somerset and Hampshire. And the London fire brigade had the first of several sessions under the “train the trainer” programme on Monday.
A spokesperson for the RNLI said the sessions were focusing on what people should do in the immediate aftermath of someone going in to the water, including how to properly use a throwline.
“Currents in the Thames are quite fast. So, it’s working with the currents to make sure that, when you throw in a bag, you’re getting it to the person who’s in trouble within the first time or the second time.”
Powell said: “There’s the risk of slipping and falling in [the river] if out exercising or getting into trouble if you’ve been out drinking near water and if you do fall in, you could go into cold-water shock.
“The more people that know how to use throwlines and know what to do in the event of an emergency in the water, the more chance there is of lives being saved.”
According to the UK drowning prevention strategy, an average of 400 people drown in the UK each year – many after slipping or falling into the water, or trying to rescue either a person or a pet.
In London, the fire brigade said it had carried out 430 rescues on bodies in water since 2017, with attempts at suicide accounting for nearly half.
The organisation has worked to encourage all new developments alongside the Thames to come with fencing and foliage to make it more difficult to reach the water’s edge in any instance, as well as ladders near to exit points and lifebuoys to help anyone who does end up in the water.