Street pastors responsible for a dramatic fall in drownings in the River Severn in Shrewsbury last night (Monday, Sept 9th) received lifesaving tuition on river rescues from Shropshire firefighters.
The church going volunteers, who range from the mid-twenties to retired, and include teachers, charity and health workers, learned how to throw buoyancy aids and lines from the safety of the towpath to firefighters in the water who are members of the brigade’s Swiftwater Rescue Team.
Firefighters last night held a 90 minute training session for 14 street pastors from Shrewsbury and Telford at the Frankwell Quay in Shrewsbury. There will be two further sessions for another 20 street pastors on 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 drew up a special riverside practical training schedule for firefighters from Shrewsbury’s blue watch to teach the volunteers to safely throw 20 metre lines to victims in differing water conditions and give water safety advice.
Street pastors practice with the throwlines at Frankwell Quay last night (Monday)
The volunteers have been given four throwlines and belts to carry during their 10pm to 4am Saturday night patrols through the streets of Shrewsbury town centre donated by the county brigade’s throwline supplier, Safequip UK.
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.
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 Swift Water Rescue Technicians at Shrewsbury Fire Station to deliver water safety advice and practical training on deploying lifesaving throwlines.”
Keith Hackett, Trustee chairman of Shrewsbury Street Pastors, who had witnessed one young man dancing on the top of the Welsh Bridge during one night time patrol, said it was “a fantastic opportunity” for them to be trained to save lives.
“He could have fallen into the river at any time. Now we have the confidence and really good training,” he said.
Trainee street pastor Pauline Jones (64), a retired guide dogs rehabilitation worker, of Monkmoor, Shrewsbury, said: “One of the biggest reasons for being a street pastor is keeping people from drowning in the river.”
Glen Perkins, a football coach with Wolverhampton Wanderers, said: ”It’s a lot more difficult than you think . It’s just getting to know the technique of how to throw it.
“I hope we never have cause to do it but we are prepared now after this training. We admire the firefighters who do it for real.”
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 “Swiftwater 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 and in the Rivern Severn at Ironbridge and Shrewsbury, ready for any incident.
Street Pastor Marion Howarth (55), a Shrewsbury admin officer at the United Reformed Church in the town, tries her hand at throwing a line