Shrewsbury street pastors praised for saving lives on the river

Photo showing a firefighter throwing a float and line out into a river where firefighters are treading water

Shropshire firefighters pictured throwline training in the River Severn at Ironbridge. This month, Shropshire street pastors will be given riverside practical training, including how to throw 20 metre lines safely to victims in the water.

A dramatic fall in drownings in the River Severn in Shrewsbury is due to the “immense” contribution of Shrewsbury Street Pastors who keep a lookout for vulnerable people on a Saturday night out, said the county’s fire chief.

There have been no deaths in the “Shrewsbury loop” section of the river which runs through the medieval town centre since the Street Pastors took to the streets in November 2011. Previously there had been 29 deaths in the river since 2004.

Chief Fire Officer John Redmond praised the Street Pastors as he responded to their request to give them lifesaving tuition on how to safely rescue people who fall into the river late at night.

The church going volunteers, who range from the mid-twenties to retired, and include teachers, charity and health workers, will learn how to throw buoyancy aids and lines from the safety of the towpath to anyone struggling in the water.

Firefighters are holding three 90 minute training sessions for 30 street pastors at the Frankwell Quay in Shrewsbury on September 9 at 7pm, September 15 from 11am to 1pm and September 24 from 7pm to 9pm.

The initiative was launched by the fire chief after he asked the organisation how Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service could help them in their bid to protect vulnerable people on the streets of Shrewsbury.

"The contribution from Street Pastors to community safety in the past 12 months has been immense,” said Mr Redmond.

“Our firefighters are pleased to help with their request to improve their water safety skills."

Senior fire officers have drawn up a special riverside practical training schedule when firefighters from Shrewsbury’s blue watch will teach the volunteers to safely throw 20 metre lines to victims in differing water conditions and give water safety advice. The volunteers will be given two throwlines and belts to carry during their 10pm to 4am Saturday night patrols donated by the county brigade’s throwline supplier, Safequip UK.

The brigade’s Assistant Group Commander Neil Griffiths said a reduction in incidents in the town centre River Severn loop was as a result of the “fantastic” Street Pastor scheme.

“We are only too pleased to offer the services of the Swiftwater Rescue Technicians at Shrewsbury Fire Station to deliver water safety advice and practical training on deploying lifesaving throwlines.”

Street Pastor Coordinator Ian Horne, a retired driver trainer, whose wife Jane is also a volunteer, said: “One of the main reasons why we were set up was to try and help reduce the number of river deaths in Shrewsbury town centre by identifying vulnerable people walking on their own.

“I watched a YouTube film of Street Pastors in Scotland learning how to throw rescue lines. We thought that has to be good for us to help people to remain safe so that we can rescue people if the need arises.

“This training will be invaluable as it will give us the option, if we need it, of helping someone without having to dive into the river. We do see people who are in danger of falling into the river because they are intoxicated. One young man was dancing on the Welsh Bridge and he could have toppled in at any time.“

Over the past two years, Street Pastors have cared for hundreds of youngsters, many worse the wear from drink and drugs, who stumble onto the streets from the town’s 30 plus bars and night clubs.

Many walk along the riverside on their way home which has led to fatalities in the past. Lifebelts available along the river for public use are sometimes vandalised.

Skilled Shropshire firefighters trained in “Swift Water Rescues” are called out to rescue people from rivers and water courses in the county and across the UK. A rescue boat is based at Shrewsbury fire station and firefighters regularly train in the fast flowing river in Llangollen, ready for any incident.

If you want more information about Shrewsbury Street Pastors phone 07753 691 635 or email or visit their Facebook page.

6th September, 2013