Surrey Fire and Rescue Service renews safety warnings as Get Surrey joins crew on the Thames

Surrey firefighters have renewed their water safety warnings after fears ‘it won’t be long before we are pulling a body out’ again

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s (SF&RS) Walton boat crew were back out for water training drills less than 24 hours after being involved in the search for a missing man, whose body was later found in the River Thames.

Get Surrey reporter Charlotte Tobitt joined the crew on Friday July 29, just a day after SFR&S conducted a search for a body opposite The Weir pub opposite The Weir pub, to learn about the danger hotspots and what they do in cases of a person in the river.

Desborough Island in Weybridge is a key area of concern, with large groups of young people often jumping off its two bridges in hot weather and huge amounts of litter left as evidence of parties and barbecues.

Firefighter Will Keenan said: “If we get any more hot weather, it won’t be long before we are pulling a body out here. If they are drinking as well – alcohol and water is lethal.”

Tony Pascall and Will Keenan by one of the Desborough Island bridges

He also warned any fire on Desborough Island among the scrubs could get out of hand quickly but would be difficult to reach, with a huge amount of manpower needed.

The crew stopped by Desborough Island last week to make the youths aware of the dangers during the hot weather, but said they were uninterested until told of 19-year-old Leon Wilson’s death in nearby Lammas Lake, Staines, just a week before on Tuesday July 19.

A body was also found in the river in Weybridge in the early hours of Tuesday July 12.

Warning anyone off jumping from the high bridges, watch commander Tony Pascall said: “This is a really popular summer spot for people, children, just out having a good time in the summer.

Walton firefighters Tony Pascall, Will Keenan, Barry Culver and Luke Carter

Walton firefighters Tony Pascall, Will Keenan, Barry Culver and Luke Carter

“We haven’t got a problem with people enjoying themselves, it’s just that we do get some people up there on the bridge and they’ll stand up on the railings and they’ll jump down into the river and it’s a total no-no.

“The shock of the coldness of the water to start with, you don’t know what’s under there, it could be an old shopping trolley, or trees, anything like that. It’s really, really dangerous.”

For those who do swim in the Thames, Mr Pascall urged that they know where their nearest safety ring is and also have a line or stick to hand in case someone gets into trouble.

Walton firefighters taking part in a training exercise

The crew usually practice on their boat on the Thames once a week, and demonstrated some simple drills such as “man overboard” and “casualty in the water” with different ways of retrieving both live people and bodies from the water.

However, they prefer to do water rescue training at Shepperton Weir where the elements are stronger, preparing them for challenging searches.

When someone witnesses where a missing person went into the water, Mr Keenan said there is a good chance of the search crew finding them within a five metre radius.

Firefighters simulating taking a body out of the Thames

Firefighters simulating taking a body out of the Thames

They can usually get to an incident in about 20 minutes, and it is believed people can be saved after spending up to 45 minutes underwater.

Otherwise, sadly, it can be a case of waiting for days for a body to emerge.

The crew often go out on the Thames with their safety message and Mr Keenan said: “We are getting out and speaking to the public.

Firefighters training on the Thames

Firefighters training on the Thames

“A lot of them don’t understand why having a smoke alarm in the boat is important, or carbon monoxide alarm.

“Having a presence is good as well – if they see the fire boat on the river a lot of people feel a bit safer.”