Inquest: “Fire brigade condemned my son to his death”

October 28, 2010 | by | 5 Comments

Firefighters refused to help two men who drowned in a freezing lake because they were not trained in water rescues, an inquest heard today.

Lake death inquest

Emergency teams stood watching from the riverbank as Philip Surridge, 42, who was drowning with his friend Paul Litchfield, screamed: ”Help me, please don’t let me die”.

A brave member of the public who waded into the water begged for assistance but the firefighters refused because they only had ‘basic water awareness training’.

The inquest was also told that the only fireman present who was trained in water rescue had left his dry suit back at the station.

And the team of four retained firefighters had also left an inflatable hose – which could have reached the men – back on their fire engine, which was parked 400m from the scene.

Speaking at the inquest into both men at Kettering Magistrates’ Court yesterday, Philip’s mum Beryl Hindlaugh blamed firefighters for ‘condemning her son to death’.

She said: ”I’m sure if a member of the fire brigade had gone in with Stephen, my son had the mental and physical strength to bring himself out of the water.

”That’s why he kept shouting ‘do not let me die’. It’s hard to sit here to face the fire brigade because the fire brigade condemned my son to his death.

”My son was still alive (when they arrived). Why couldn’t humanity just have taken over?”

Paul, 30, of Raunds, Northants., and Philip, of Corby, Northants., were regular hunting partners and drove to Brightwell Lake near Ringstead on December 21 last year.

They were searching for ducks when Paul’s black labrador Amy suddenly disappeared beneath the surface of the icey lake.

He immediately ran across the ice, but his weight forced it to give way and he disappeared, prompting Philip to go in after him before getting stuck 100ft from the riverbank.

Passer-by Stephen Smith heard his frantic screams for help and called the fire service before wading in to try and reach him.

When four retained firefighters arrived minutes later, he pleaded with them to tie a rope around him so he could reach Philip, whose head was bobbing up and down in the water.

Stephen told the inquest: ”I was getting very frustrated and angry with the fire crew. I felt the fire crew weren’t doing enough. I felt something could be done.

”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’.

”I wondered why no-one had entered the water sooner. All these fire officers weren’t doing enough to save this man.”

But 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 he 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 added they had inflatable hoses which would have reached the man but had left them at the fire engine.

David Wilson told the inquest he was the only swift water rescue technician but his dry suit was at Wellingborough fire station.

Three boats and six specialist water rescue officers arrived minutes later, by which time Philip had disappeared under the surface.

They saved Amy the dog but called off the search for the the two men after two hours.

Philip’s body was retrieved on December 24 and Paul’s was pulled out on December 30. A post mortem revealed both men died of immersion in cold water.

Philip Pells, head of operations for Northants Fire and Rescue, said: ”All crews followed operational procedures and policy.”

When asked if they would react in the same manner to a similar incident this winter, he responded: ”I don’t believe it would be different. Correct procedures were followed.”

Since the deaths, the force has issued each of their 70 swift water rescue technicians with a personal dry suit.

Recording a verdict of accidental death on both men, Northamptonshire coroner Anne Pember, said: ”This was a dire situation.

”This was life add death and I feel it’s more than likely had that fire officer who was swift water trained had his dry suit and water floatation device, he would have gone in the water.”

Category: News

Comments (5)

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  1. As a volunteer firefighter, my obvious question is how is it the fire brigade’s fault her son didn’t have the good sense to stay off the ice? I understand people are always looking for someone to blame; and if a fellow doesn’t know, at 42, that ice can be dangerous, then it’s darwinism at work.

    Where’s Beryl’s humanity (as she put it) for the firefighters whose lives would also be at risk going after her son? Or, her wallet when the brigade’s trying to raise funds to purchase such things as wetsuits and training to use them?

    You’re certainly entitled to engage in risky behavior; and many of us try to help our peers by saving them from themselves when they’ve done so. It’s likely safer to not expect strangers to risk their lives to save yours, especially when they’re not equipped to do so, and they’re properly following orders from their chain of command.

  2. Ironwand says:

    “Health and Safety”.

    One of the many, many illegitimate children of political correctness.

    Kevin Brown should be put up against a wall and shot for cowardice. Of course, in a PC age, he’ll probably get a medal for behaving impeccably.

    My condolences to the familes of Philip Surridge and Paul Litchfield.

    • Apache4567 says:

      someone should shoot you! find out what really happened that day not listen to the mothers comments!

    • Andrea Brown says:

      so should you be put up against a wall and shot for your comment! Mr brown is one of the kindest and self less people i know and has saved many countless lives due to his committment –   i should know!!!!!!!

  3. Nigel Johnson says:

    The fire brigade isn’t what killed this woman’s son; stupidity is! Its easy for folks who can’t be arsed to do anything for anyone to call someone a coward tho ain’t it? Good on Kevin Brown for keeping his crew safe! There’s no reason for them to be risking their lives for some plonkers. I bet this hag Hindlaugh would’ve sued them still had they’d of gone in the drink and her boy still drowned! The member of the public who waded into the water could’ve been another victim to this farce.

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