Teenage drownings still haunt firefighter Simon

Oxford’s Donnington Bridge carries hundreds of motorists daily but firefighter Simon Belcher still gets a horrible sick feeling in the pit of his stomach each time he drives over it.

Twice Simon has led efforts to save teenage boys who got into difficulty in the Thames below and twice Simon and his colleagues have sadly failed to get to them in time. In National Drowning Prevention Week, Simon recalls:

“The death of Hussain Mohammed is the one that really sticks. I arrived to take charge of the scene with crews from Oxford already there frantically trying to find the lad.

“What you have got to remember is that the river there is very deep, very wide and the visibility is very poor because of the stirred-up silt.

“We also weren’t completely sure at the time exactly where he had gone in. There were lots of his friends about and that added to the emotional pressure on our crews.

“Eventually we found him with the help of our boats from Kidlington. Although it had been a long time since he went in, there was still hope, still a possibility of resuscitation, according to the ambulance crew, as the water was so cold.

“Once we found him one of the boat crew gave him “first breaths” as they headed to the waiting ambulance on the bank and its defibrillator.

“But despite attempts by ambulance and medical staff we later found out he died at the John Radcliffe Hospital. He was just 15.

“I’ve a seven-year-old and I have drummed it in not to swim in rivers or any other unsupervised waters.

“And while I know each year we seem to say the same things about water safety and the risk of drowning Hussain’s death and the deaths of the 60 or so other young people each year who drown in the UK are heart-breaking for the families and those who try to save them.”

Drowning is among the leading causes of accidental death in the UK especially of young people with around 60 youngsters dying each year.

Many hundreds more are left with life-changing conditions after near drowning incidents.

At unsupervised sites the water will be much colder than you might expect and can often be very deep and contain underwater snags that you can’t see. And especially never go into the water after drinking alcohol.

If you do see someone getting into difficulties, dial 999, shout for help and try and throw something that floats to them. Do not enter the water yourself.”

Further advice can be found at http://www.365alive.co.uk/cms/content/open-water-and-riverbanks