Water rescue

Modern Firefighting – Water Rescue

By Fred Le Ouedec, Water Rescue Trainer and Firefighter at Bedminster fire station

As you are probably well aware by now, the role of a firefighter does not simply focus on firefighting and community work.

One of my specialist roles, working in Bedminster fire station, is also to respond to water, mud or sometimes ice-related incidents.

All firefighters within the service are trained to work safely near water. As well as a basic awareness course, they are also trained to use specific equipment carried on all frontline appliances for water-related incidents including lifejackets, reach poles, loud hailers and throwlines.

However, because of the limitations of the basic training and the potentially hostile nature of the environment, especially moving water, we also have specialist water rescue teams.

These teams, based at Bedminster and Bath fire stations, consist of firefighters trained as swift water rescue technicians and boat operators.

All technicians have been trained in-house at various venues within the Service, rivers or further afield, including the River Usk in South Wales or the Barle on Exmoor for example.

We also use the Cardiff International White Water centre for specific rescue skills such as vehicles in water training.

Most of us are also Royal Yachting Association Powerboat Level 2 trained so we can safely use the three safety boats within the Service. 

Both Bath and Bedminster have a RIB boat on the station as well as another slightly bigger rigid craft moored in Bristol Docks and crewed by Bedminster staff.

The boats are used at most incidents within the docks in Bristol or the river Avon in Bath. Their primary function is to provide safety to crews working on or near the water, at a boat fire for example, or the safety of swift water rescue technicians.

Our role is varied and, because of our specialist training, we have over the years responded to a vast range of incidents in or near water.

These incidents include assisting casualties stuck in mud in the Avon Gorge, stranded motorists in flood water, searching for missing people near water, or sadly sometimes body recovery.

We are also involved with spreading the prevention message. Working with other agencies, we provide fire safety advice to boat owners on the rivers or docks.

We also inform students and revellers on the risks of drowning and dangers associated with cold water.

This is as a direct response to tragic incidents we attended over many years and our responses will continue to evolve based on the situation.