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With boating taking place on many waterways in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, Beaconsfield White Watch was keen to add its support to Boat Fire Safety Week (29 May to 4 June 2023).

The crew visited two local marina’s with the hope of interacting with people living or working on boats in the area. They also spoke to anyone who had hired a boat for leisure activities, as well as those simply enjoying the local waterways.

Gavin Darvell, Watch Commander for Beaconsfield White Watch which leads on water safety for the Station, said before the visits:

“If you are using a boat, it’s important you are aware of how to keep yourself and others safe. During Boat Fire Safety Week we will be taking our rescue boat, along with smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and leaflets, down to the river and our local marina’s.

“We are hoping to speak to anyone that uses boats; so, that will include people hiring for a holiday or weekend break, as well as those who live on boats permanently, or work on them.

“Our aim is to raise awareness of ways to reduce the risk of being affected by carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as our core Float to Live water safety advice. – so if you are in the area please do stop and say hello!”

Fire safety advice for those on boats:

Anna Ditta, our Community Safety Co-ordinator for the South Bucks area, said:

“Sadly fires can spread quickly on a boat, and have devastating consequences. Boats are often in remote locations with difficult access, and this can result in firefighters taking longer to arrive at an incident, allowing a fire to destroy a boat and everything onboard.

“Even a moderate-sized boat can carry significant quantities of diesel, LPG and petrol. These fuels, combined with materials such as wood and glass-reinforced-plastic, and a number of sources of heat including engines, electrics and solid fuel stoves, pose a real risk.

“Our key messages are that you should fit suitable alarms, make an action plan so that you can escape in the event of a fire, understand the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and take extreme care when refuelling or changing gas cylinders.

“Records show that exhaust emissions from portable generators, and problems with solid fuel stoves and flue pipes, pose the biggest carbon monoxide risks.”

“It is for this reason that we are keen to urge the boating population – particularly people who live on their boats – to check that their boats are equipped with the correct safety equipment. This includes having working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

Our top boat fire safety tips are:

  • Fit suitable smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to help keep you and your crew safe
  • Regularly check and maintain your boat’s fuel, gas and electrical systems – if you smell gas or petrol, act immediately
  • Never leave your cooking unattended – turn it off until you come back
  • Refuel portable petrol engines and/or portable tanks ashore – never onboard
  • Never leave combustible items like soft furnishings, furniture or drying fabrics, too close or above a solid fuel appliance
  • Keep the cabin well-ventilated to avoid build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide
  • Make and agree an emergency plan with everyone on board before you set out
  • If in doubt, don’t fight a fire yourself.  Get out, stay out and wait for the fire and rescue service.

The crew visited:

  • Bourne End Marina, Bourne End, Bucks, SL8 5RR during the day on Thursday (1 June 2023)
  • Harleyford Marina, Henley Road, Marlow, Bucks, SL7 2DX during Saturday evening (3 June 2023).
Beaconsfield water rescue boat and crew out on the river, with tree lined background.

The crew are planning more visits to the marinas and local waterways over the summer, so if you happen to see them do stop to say hello.

Following tragic deaths in the water over the last few years in the Thames Valley, Thames Valley Police, Buckinghamshire and Royal Berkshire fire and rescue services, the Environment Agency, South Central Ambulance Service, Buckinghamshire Council and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have all been working together with the aim of warning and informing residents of how to stay safe by the water, particularly with young people who often head to the water side when schools are closed.

Partnership working:

As a partnership, we are thrilled to be working with Olympic swimmer Tom Dean MBE on this important topic. This week a short water safety video is being shared across the Thames Valley that features Tom and includes advice around safe open water swimming, the dangers of jumping from bridges and what to do if you find yourself in trouble in the water.

In 2022, there were 151 accidental drownings in England. 60% of these happened at inland waters like we have across the Thames Valley (Statistics from the National Water Safety Forum)

Tom is a double Olympic gold medallist, winning gold individually in 200 metre freestyle and as part of a team in 4 × 200 m freestyle relay at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He grew up in Maidenhead and is very passionate about the issue of water safety having lived near the Jubilee Flood Relief Channel, a popular open water spot in Berkshire.

The video will be played in schools:

The video will be played on school buses covering the area around the Jubilee Flood Relief Channel and school inputs on water safety will be delivered by fire and rescue services in the final half term of the school year.

Over the summer, all agencies will be participating in joint patrols of the riverside and running a number of safety events on hot, sunny days when these areas are busiest.

Stuart Grosse, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service Group Commander and lead officer for water safety, said:

“We hope the tips within this video help raise awareness of ways young people can keep themselves, their mates, and others safe should they find themselves near any stretch of open water.

“This new initiative, playing the video on school busses and in classroom visits, allows us to share transferable information with a key audience. The advice provided about cold-water shock, how to float to live, and what you can do to help if you see someone struggling in water, can be applied whether you are by a river, lake or even a beach.

“Our hope is that those watching this video won’t ever be in a situation where they need to draw on it, but should the situation arise, they will be able to draw on the contents and in doing so, increase the chances of a life being saved.”

This Business Safety Week we’re keen to introduce you to our Protection Team, which works to help Bucks and MK businesses reduce workplace fire risk and comply with fire safety law.

Fire Safety Law

Fire safety law is concerned with the compliance of most premises (excluding individual private flats and houses) to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the Order).

The aim of this piece of legislation is to ensure that all reasonable steps have been taken in the workplace to ensure that everyone can escape safely if there is a fire.

For those in blocks of flats and high-rise residential buildings the Order also applies to the common areas such as foyers and more recently, following on from the Grenfell Tower fire, to external wall coverings including balconies.

Fire Safety in BFRS

Within BFRS we refer to fire safety as protection.

Our Protection Team is made up of inspecting officers who work in three offices that deal with fire safety throughout Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes.

The aim of the Protection Team is to ensure that all everyone who works, lives or visits any premises included in the Order is able to safely escape in the rare and unfortunate circumstances of a fire occurring. The team manage this in several different ways.

BFRS Protection Team

Team members:

  • Provide feedback to consultations involving the development of buildings, whether initially being built or a change in use. An example would be the proposed building of a new high-rise residential building where the Protection Team would give its opinion on how the building could be built to ensure that everyone can escape safety or remain safe in their flats if a fire broke out.
  • Respond to fire safety complaints, either from our own staff on fire appliances who are made aware of areas of concern, or from members of the public with similar concerns. A recent example of this was a flat above a restaurant where there was no safe way for the person in the flat to escape without going past a fire that occurred in the restaurant. In this case the Protection Team prohibited the use of the flat, straight away, for the safety of the resident.
  • Undertake visits to premises that have recently had a fire to see whether there is advice which can be offered to reduce the impact or likelihood of a re-occurrence. In some cases fire development progressed because there was insufficient detection. This in turn might compromise the safety of those working in the building, so advice around fire detection and suppression systems and emergency escape routes will be offered.
  • Undertake their own pre-arranged audit visits that reflect BFRS understanding of the risk of a building and who occupies it. For example, if a building is occupied by older or less able people we would see this as a higher risk because those people would not be able to escape as quickly.
  • Work closely with their colleagues in Response and Prevention (Community Safety) to ensure that information on the safety of our communities is passed on to all relevant teams. This happens when Prevention staff spot fire safety issues in common areas, when giving safety advice to people in their own flats.

As the country enters into another period of extreme heat, the Met Office has issued a Level 5 Exceptional Fire Severity Warning for parts of Buckinghamshire this weekend (13/14 August 2022).

The Fire Severity Index (FSI) does not indicate the risk of a fire occurring, but the likely severity of any fire which does occur in an area at that time. It is based upon wind speed, temperature, time of year and rainfall. It has 5 levels:

  • FSI level 1 = low fire severity
  • FSI level 2 = moderate fire severity
  • FSI level 3 = high fire severity
  • FSI level 4 = very high fire severity
  • FSI level 5 = exceptional fire severity

Already this month, Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) has attended multiple field fires, including those at Foscott, Marlow Bottom (pictured), Mursley, Penn and Lane End.

The Met Office has issued an amber warning for extreme heat, lasting from midnight on Thursday, 11 August until 11.59pm on Sunday, 14 August.

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service (BFRS) would like to remind residents on warm weather safety advice and how to keep themselves and others safe during heatwaves.

We have already seen high volumes of demand this summer. We are asking our communities to help reduce the risk of fire during this prolonged period of high temperatures and dry weather by avoiding using naked flames in the open wherever possible.

Additional safety advice for hot weather is:

The Met Office have today (Friday 15 July) issued a red extreme heat warning for Monday (18 July) and Tuesday (19 July) across the South East. In response, Thames Valley Police, South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, and the fire and rescue services from Oxfordshire, Royal Berkshire and Buckinghamshire are collectively issuing advice to residents on steps they can take to reduce demand on their services. This includes:

  • Looking out for others, especially older people, young children and babies and those with underlying health conditions.
  • Closing curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors.
  • Drink plenty of water, stay in shaded areas, dress appropriately for the weather and slow down when it is hot.

All services are expecting an increase in demand over the coming days. Communities are being encouraged to only dial 999 in emergency situations, which includes when a life is in danger or a crime is happening right now. There are mechanisms in place for those who need to contact the police and health services in non-emergencies, including online services.

Deputy Chief Constable Jason Hogg, Chair of the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum said:

“As temperatures increase across the Thames Valley, so will calls to 999. We are working closely with our fire, ambulance, health and local authority partners to prepare for the challenges that heat brings, and to keep our communities safe. Do take advice on water and fire safety and look after yourself and keep hydrated.

“With the expected heat warning over the coming days, we are expected to see an increase in individuals contacting the police, sometimes for matters we cannot help with. To speak to the police about anything that is not an emergency and where you do not need to speak to someone at that moment in time, please contact us online. This will help keep our 101 service for those who need to speak to someone and help preserve 999 as an emergency line if a crime is happening now or life or property is at immediate risk.”

The members of our specially trained water rescue crews are keen to share their water safety tips with you and will be taking the rescue boat on tour as they get out and about on the river this summer!

Jubilee River has already hosted two of our crews. Beaconsfield Blue Watch attended the Taplow stretch on Saturday 2 July, and Beaconsfield Green Watch joined colleagues from Slough Fire Station, on Sunday 3 July, at Chalvey Community Partnership’s canoeing and river safety event (pictured below).

Firefighters provided water safety advice to the public

Organised as part of its monthly Chalvey Activity Food and Fun (CAFF) club, the family fun day saw more than 70 people from the local community attend. Many stopped to say hello to our specially trained water rescue crew, view their rescue boat, and learnt how to stay safe in and around the water this summer.

Alex Mason, Beaconsfield Green Watch Commander, said: “All bodies of water like rivers, canals, and reservoirs have hidden risks, even to the most experienced swimmers. Younger people can often be tempted to take a dip in our rivers. However many are unaware of the potential dangers that the waters offer such as hidden currents or reeds beneath the surface which could pull you under.”

Safety first

Sharing safety messages with young people and their families before they get in the water is a key objective of the Beaconsfield crews.

Alex continued: “We were able to hand out plenty of age-appropriate information for the audience we were hoping to capture at this event and are looking to attend more, incident permitting, over the coming months.

“This event provided us with a great opportunity to work collaboratively across the fire service border. It’s kick-started what we hope will become more regular joint community safety work moving forward.”

Meet the team

The crews have further events planned on Jubilee River and the Thames throughout the summer.

Beaconsfield Station Commander, Stuart Grosse said: “Our aim this summer is to interact as much as possible with anyone who enjoys getting out and about on the rivers, or in open water, in our area.

“We are keen to help people see there are ways to enjoy our rivers, lakes, and canals safely and help them understand why it is so important to respect the water and be aware of the potential dangers it can hold.

“Sadly, there are occasions where people do get into water-related difficulties, so something else our specially trained water rescue crews are looking to share with local residents and businesses, as well as river visitors, is how best to deal with these situations if they do happen.”

The plan is for the Rescue Boat and its crews to attend riverside locations within our area over the coming weeks.

Please see dates and locations below.

More dates will be added over the Summer, so pop back from time to time to find out when they will be in your area – they’re keen to meet you!