What would you do if you saw someone drowning?

The City of Norwich viewed from the River Wensum. Quay Side and Fye Bridge. Picture: Denise Bradley

The City of Norwich viewed from the River Wensum. Quay Side and Fye Bridge. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

This week would-be river rescuers were warned not to be a hero.

Garry Collins, head of prevention and protection at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Garry Collins, head of prevention and protection at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service - Credit: Archant

But can bystanders really watch and wait for emergency services if someone is in life-threatening danger?

Dashing into a burning building. Jumping into a river. Running towards a car on fire.

These are just some of the extraordinary acts of bravery committed by passers-by in an attempt to save the lives of complete strangers.

But after a 'really near miss' this week, in which two people jumped into the River Wensum in Norwich to help a woman in the water, firefighters have warned people not to be a hero in case they become a casualty too.

Someone has gone into the water by a Wetherspoon's in Norwich (Image: Archant)

Someone has gone into the water by a Wetherspoon's in Norwich (Image: Archant) - Credit: Archant

Garry Collins, head of fire prevention and protection at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said earlier this week: 'It can mean one fatality potentially becomes two or three.

'Of course one is tragic, but we don't want multiple drowning incidents.'

Dan Hurd, coxswain of Hemsby Lifeboat, said it is vital to prevent the need for dangerous rescues by always wearing life jackets in the vicinity of water, and he particularly urged parents to ensure children wear them at all times on boats.

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He said: 'We would advise people not to jump in, and to call 999 immediately, as they are only putting themselves at risk.

'But people are doing to do it.

'Sometimes when people go in the water they start panicking. Try to stay calm.

'There are a lot of weeds under the rivers and a lot of people are not aware and they get caught round your legs and pull you under.'

But the impulse to rescue is strong, despite the danger.

The Royal Humane Society regularly makes awards to people who have risked their own lives to save others – often following recommendations from police, the fire service and the ambulance service.

Andrew Chapman, secretary of society, said: 'I can understand the warning that has been given. I can understand the thinking behind the advice.

'It's true that members of the public who go to the aid of others do at times end up getting into trouble and having to be rescued themselves. 'There have been incidents where rescuers have died but the person they have gone to help has survived thanks to their efforts.

'However, from our experience that is thankfully a very infrequent occurrence and I think it needs to be balanced against the number of lives that are saved by members of the public. Also, it has to be remembered that when a member of the public sees some-one in trouble invariably they don't stop to weigh up the odds. There's a knee-jerk reaction to go in and try and help those who are in danger. It's human nature.

'People walking by rivers and canals who see some-one in danger of drowning don't stop to think about the risk to themselves. If they can swim then they tend to jump in without weighing up the dangers. Time is usually of the essence and if they wait for the emergency services to arrive the chances are the person will have drowned.

'Likewise with fire situations. We've had numerous cases of people rushing up to cars that are on fire to pull the driver and passengers out to safety. It's almost suicidal to approach a car which is on fire and could explode at an minute, but in spur of the moment, the rescuers don't think and as a result many, many lives have been saved.'

He added: 'We get many incredible incidents of bravery by members of the public which have resulted in lives being saved. The best evidence of that probably is the fact that since the society was established we've made a total of over 200,000 awards and many of those have been for this sort of bravery.

'Of course many of those awards go not only to members of the public but also to those in the emergency services.

'Certainly there's nothing wrong in warning the public of the dangers they could face, but at the end of the day there is this knee-jerk reaction to help someone in distress. Human nature kicks in and over-rides the rescuer's thoughts of self preservation.'

When a fire broke out at a neighbour's house, father-of-four Adam Haden did not hesitate to spring into action.

The 38-year-old used a step ladder to carry out the daring rescue of a six-year-old girl from a first floor window and then ran into the burning home to save the family's dog.

Mr Haden, of New Costessey, said he would 'absolutely' do the same again, and added: 'I didn't really think too much about the danger, I just did what I needed to do.

'But everybody's different and it's down to them whether or not they take the risk.'


Riverside restaurants and businesses are being urged to sign up to scheme to teach them how to rescue people safely.

The scheme, designed to prevent people from drowning in waterways across the Broads, was launched this month at the Acle Bridge Inn.

The waterside safety programme was launched by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in partnership with the police's Broads Beat unit and the Broads Authority.

The landlord of the Acle Bridge Inn, Philip Hannon, and eight of his staff were taught how to use a throw bag, which can be used to retrieve people who fall in the nearby River Bure.

At the launch, Keith Phillips, special constable at Broads Beat, said: 'We're trying to discourage people from entering the water to attempt rescues, because you can end up in a situation where someone unnecessarily loses their life.'

Venues are encouraged to sign up at www.rnli.org/pages/throw-bag-training


Diane Leeder, 58, Wycliffe Road, Norwich.

'Thing is it's against everything that's essentially human. Of course there's risks but where's our humanity if we follow these prescribed rules?

'I understand, but you cannot prescribe to people without exception that they cannot and can try. It's crazy.'

Karl Strak, 62, security officer, from Lowestoft.

'It's not being a hero, it's doing the right thing, your ordinary instinct is to jump in and help.'

Jackie Barnard, 55, care supporter from Loddon.

'I think you need to know your own capabilities, there is no need to jump in risking your life if you cannot swim.'

Kate Warner, 37, shop manager, Norwich.

'I think if I saw someone or an animal in danger, I would do something. You've got to assess the situation but it's human instinct to help.'

Bruce Towers, 55, heating engineer, Fakenham.

'I would jump in if someone was in the water. I'd get in, it would be to late by the time the emergency service got there. If you're walking along and see something you're going to jump in.'

Louise Carter, 45, fundraiser, Hertfordshire.

'It depends on if you have any training, even if you have done training or any course you need to know what you're doing.'

Ben Johnson, 25, support worker, Dereham.

'I'm not surprised by the response, we live in a health and safety kind of world. You never know until you're there, but I'd like to think that yes I'd jump in.'