Fire Brigade issue cold water shock warning following three drownings

Three people have drowned in one day in separate incidents due to what firefighters are calling ‘cold water shock’.

London Fire Brigade is urging people not to enter into open water during the heatwave as three people drowned in the capital on Wednesday. With the weather heating up it may be tempting to dive in and cool off in rivers, canals, or docks. Despite warm weather outside, temperatures of many ‘swimming spots’ in London are still cold enough to put a person into cold water shock even in the height of summer.

The first tragic incident occurred around 6pm in the Shadwell Basin just off the River Thames in east London. A man is believed to have entered the water with friends but shortly went under. LFB’s Water Rescue Unit alongside emergency partners carried out a systematic search of the scene but sadly he could not be found. The incident ended at 8.29pm.

Shortly after the Shadwell incident was closed, the fire brigade was called at 8.34pm to a report of a man who had gone under the surface after trying to swim across a stretch of the River Thames in Kingston at the Queens Promanard at the rear of a pub. Firefighters from Surbiton, Kingston, Heston and Battersea fire stations attended the scene with crews from the RNLI. They carried out a comprehensive search but sadly could not locate the man. This incident ended for fire crews at 10.47pm.

At exactly the same time as the 999 call came in for the incident in Kingston a separate call was taken for someone in the water near Waterloo Bridge. Once again, despite the best efforts of firefighters from Lambeth, Soho, Bethnal Green and East Ham fire stations, the Lambeth River Boat station, and the RNLI, and the police the individual could not be located.

Cold water shock – Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water, and on average the UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12°C. Rivers such as the Thames are colder – even in the summer.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Paul Trew said: “This is the single worst day for drowning incidents the Brigade has attended in my 25 year career. Going into the water might seem like a good idea in the hot weather but it is incredibly dangerous as the water is a lot colder than you’d expect.

“Cold water can cause your body to go into shock no matter how fit you are, causing panic, anxiety, disorientation and loss of muscular control. These reactions can also cause you to gasp for air resulting in water being inhaled.”

Photo: London Fire Brigade

Near miss incidents

There were also some near misses across London this week. Firefighters at Lambeth River Boat Station saw a man in the water near their station. They quickly placed a throw-line into the Thames and mobilised the fire boat to rescue him.

Top water safety tips

  • Don’t make a splash, stay safe around water. Always remember:
  • Don’t go into the water if someone else is in trouble – call the Coast Guard
  • Never drink alcohol and then go for a swim or attempt to jump into water
  • Avoid walking/running near water on your own or late at night – it’s easier than you think to slip and fall in
  • What do I do if I see someone in the water?
  • If you go into the water to rescue people, pets or belongings, you could be putting yourself at risk as well.

If you do see someone in the water there are steps you can take to help them:

  • Dial 999/112 and ask for the Coast Guard.
  • If you don’t have a mobile phone, shout to raise the alarm, or go and get help.
  • Try to give an exact location of where you are. Look around for any landmarks or signs; for example bridges will often have numbers on them which can  identify their position.
  • If a person is in trouble, keep talking to them, encourage them to stay calm and float on their back.
  • Keep your eyes on the spot where you last saw them so you can tell the emergency services when they arrive.
  • If there is life saving equipment such as a lifebuoy or a throwline nearby throw it to them. If not, throw anything that will float.