Fire Service calls for caution around county’s rivers and waterways

An off-duty firefighter’s actions meant two canoeists were ‘lucky to escape with their lives’ after capsizing on the River Severn.

Firefighter Andrew Reeves from Much Wenlock on-call station and his wife Emily, spotted two shapes in the River Severn while driving over the Buildwas bridge.

Firefighter Reeves identified two men in distress being carried by the river after their canoes had capsized. The heavily swollen flood conditions meant the water was extremely cold and carrying large amounts of debris.

Mr Reeves said: “Luckily it was still light as we wouldn’t have spotted the two men who were clearly in trouble. We called 999 immediately and I made contact verbally shouting instructions to swim as hard as they could for the nearest eddy.

“One of the men managed to swim to shore but the second failed and was swept down river. I followed him down the river, shouting instructions and after some failed attempts, he managed to grab hold of a branch in an eddy which I then pulled out of the water to safety. 

Despite wearing a dry suit, helmet and life jacket, the casualty was suffering from cold water shock and was very confused – a clear side effect of hypothermia and was transported to hospital by ambulance crews.

Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton said: “The vigilance of Firefighter Reeves is to be commended.

“His swift actions undoubtedly meant a large-scale multi-agency response involving vital resources such as personnel from all the emergency services and other resources such as helicopters were not deployed at this critical time during lockdown.

“It’s fair to say he saved the life of one of the canoeists - these men were clearly experienced and had the right equipment, showing how quickly situations can turn into real emergencies.

“In almost half of all fatal water incidents in the UK, the person had no intention of entering the water and were taking part in everyday activities such as walking or jogging. The casualty was only in the water for approximately 10 minutes and already experiencing hypothermia.”

Firefighter Reeves is an experienced water responder. At this time of year, the River Severn and its tributaries rise and fall dramatically due to the levels of rainfall, so check the water levels and be aware of the increased risk. 

Riverbanks are also likely to be more slippery than expected so please Stay Away From the Edge – SAFE.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue encourages responsible exercise, always following Government guidelines: 

  • Outdoor exercise is still permitted, but should be limited to once per day 
  • Outdoor exercise should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your area if necessary, to find an open space to exercise  
  • Organised and structured outdoor sporting activity must not take place 
  • All indoor and outdoor sports clubs, centres, venues and facilities will need to close 
  • Canal towpaths and footpaths along the river remain open for people to enjoy exercise outdoors. Enjoy your local waterway but please follow the advice around social distancing at all times, keeping your distance from both other people and moored boats where people may be living aboard.  

If you are undertaking a water-based sport, seek the most up-to-date guidance from the governing body.  

West Mercia Search and Rescue has created a free course with information about staying safe around water. 

For further links to specialist advice for different sports, visit the website at 

12th January, 2021