A man died after firefighters refused to rescue him from a frozen lake, an inquest heard yesterday.
Philip Surridge screamed ‘help me, please don’t let me die’
as he struggled in the water. But a fire crew sent to the scene wouldn’t go to his aid because they were not trained in water rescues.
Yesterday Mr Surridge’s mother accused the firefighters of ‘condemning her son to death’.
Mr Surridge, 42, had jumped in to the lake to try to save his friend Paul Litchfield, who had disappeared beneath ice as he attempted to pull his dog from the water.
A passer-by, Stephen Smith, heard Mr Surridge’s cries for help and dialled 999 before wading in to the water.
But although fire crews arrived minutes later, they refused to help him because it was against policy.
The inquest heard a team of four retained firefighters had left an inflatable hose – which could have reached Mr Surridge – on their fire engine, which was parked 1,300ft from the scene
at Brightwell Lake, near Ringstead, Northamptonshire.
He ran across the ice, but the ice cracked and he fell in, prompting Mr Surridge to go in after him before getting stuck 100ft from the bank.
Stephen Smith had already entered the water by the time fire crews arrived on December 21. He pleaded with them to tie a rope around him so he could reach Mr Surridge.
Mr Smith told the inquest: ‘I was getting very frustrated and angry with the fire crew. I felt the fire crew weren’t doing enough.
‘When I went to tie the rope around me my hands were too cold. I asked the firefighter to help. He said “I can’t. I just can’t”.’ By the time three boats and six specialist water rescue officers arrived soon afterwards, Mr Surridge had disappeared beneath the surface.
The crew saved the dog but called off the search for the two men after two hours
Mr Surridge’s body was retrieved on December 24 and Mr Litchfield’s on December 30. A post-mortem examination revealed both men died of immersion in cold water.
Crew manager Kevin Brown told the inquest he ordered his men not to enter the water as they only had ‘basic water awareness training’.
He said: ‘I decided it was inappropriate to go into the water because of temperatures and weather conditions and the fact that if someone had gone in, we only had a fire kit on with tracksuits and t-shirts underneath.’
Mr Brown said they tried to rescue Mr Surridge using ‘throw lines’ but they were not long enough. Philip Pells, Northamptonshire fire and rescue service’s head of operations, told Northamptonshire coroner Anne Pember that fire crews would follow the same policy if a similar situation arose in the future.
He said it was national policy for firefighters not to try a rescue using a rope around a person as an anchor because firefighters had died in the past doing exactly that.
Since the deaths, the fire service has issued each of its 70 swift water rescuers with a personal dry suit.
Recording an accidental verdict on both men, Mrs Pember warned it was ‘quite frankly not worth the risk to human life’ of going into water to save animals