‘Heroic’: Manchester city centre chief’s praise for fire service as divers stage dummy rescue at Piccadilly Basin

By Matthew Naylor

After five water-related incidents in the past month, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service today gave a timely demonstration on how a drowning casualty is saved.

The GMFRS worked with police divers to rescue a dummy from the foot of the canal at Piccadilly Basin, a hotspot for such water-related incidents in recent times.  

Upset at the fact that our canals have seen 14 fatalities in the past 18 months, GMFRS’ Manchester Borough Manager, Andy Heywood, made it clear how hazardous the city centre water can be.

“In these temperatures, water is incredibly dangerous, even if you’re a strong swimmer,” said Mr Heywood.

“Your muscles seize up in the cold and you can drown.”

The majority of the incidents that the Water Incident Unit attend are between 10pm and 4am, where people have staggered along the canal after pubs and clubs close.

It is not just accidental falls that are causing these rescues however, as many are thrown into the canal after being victims of crime in the city centre.

People are now being urged to only use canal-side paths at night when absolutely necessary as the number of water-related incidents increases.

Chief Inspector Gareth Parkin from the North Manchester Division of Greater Manchester Police said: “The canals form part of our city’s great history but all too often they are hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons and we cannot stand by and let another tragedy take place.

“While we have a responsibility to keep the public safe we need members of the public to help us by taking some personal responsibility and looking after themselves and their friends, especially on a night out.”

As media and local residents watched on, police divers and a rescue boat went out onto the canal to recover the dummy, with impressive efficiency.

Councillor Pat Karney, spokesman for Manchester City Centre, was also in attendance at the demonstration and spoke of his admiration for the work our Water Incident Unit do.

“I would use one word to describe what I have seen today: heroic,” said Councillor Karney.

“It’s amazing what they have to do to rescue people. They endanger their own lives to make sure that people are pulled out of the canals.”

Councillor Karney also said that the City Council are working with fire services, the river authority and the police to ensure that the number of water-related incidents is minimised.

Some of the ideas being thought through at the moment are to introduce gating and fences around the canals, as well as implementing more CCTV cameras.

“It is a matter of urgency because our top priority is to prevent any further accidents in this area,” he said.

Dave Hughes, Station Manager for Manchester Central Fire Station, concurred with the councillor, saying: “With the number of fatalities going on, it’s just not acceptable and we need to do something about that.”

Anybody who witnesses a person falling into the canal is being urged to call the emergency services straight away and be as specific as possible when describing where the casualty is located.

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