Firemen refused to go in 3ft-deep lake as man floated face down
Published 22/02/2012 | 08:05
FIREMEN and police who left a man floating face down in a 3ft-deep lake because they were not trained to enter the water might have saved him had they acted sooner, an inquest in England has heard.
Simon Burgess, 41, drowned in a model boating lake after apparently suffering an epileptic seizure while feeding swans.
A witness who dialled 999 described begging the first fireman on the scene to help Mr Burgess, but he refused because the water was above “ankle deep”.
Instead, emergency crews waited for a specialist water rescue team to arrive, meaning that Mr Burgess was not taken out of the lake until 28 minutes after the alarm had been raised. He was declared dead in hospital.
Gillian Hughes, 53, was feeding ducks with her grandson at Walpole Park when she saw Mr Burgess, a charity shop worker, in the water.
“He looked like he was swimming and had a smile on his face,” she told the inquest in Portsmouth. “The next minute he had stopped and was lying face down.” She said she took off her boots to go in the water herself but her grandson was crying and she was unsure of the man’s state of mind, so she dialled 999.
“The firemen arrived with the police and I said, 'he’s only been there five or 10 minutes so if you hurry you might save him.’ He just said, 'we’re not allowed,’ and I said, 'but that’s your job.’
She added: “I believe one of the police went in to get him but was told he was not allowed. I said to one of the firemen, 'why don’t you go in?’ and he said they couldn’t if the water was higher than ankle deep. I said, 'you’re having a laugh.’ He said 'no, that’s health and safety.’
Mrs Hughes said that, by the time a specialist crew arrived, Mr Burgess had drifted to the other side of the lake.
“After the incident I was unable to sleep because I kept blaming myself and now I have to live with it,” she added.
Dr Bret Lockyer, a pathologist, told the inquest that Mr Burgess, who had a history of epilepsy, appeared to have suffered a seizure and drowned. “The seizure would have made it look like he was swimming and explains why he had a grin on his face,” he said.
He added: “If he had been taken out of the water after 10 minutes there is a slim chance he could have been resuscitated.”
Tony Nicholls, a watch manager at Gosport fire station, who was first on the scene, said: “The witnesses told me the body had been in the water for five or 10 minutes. There were no obvious signs of life so from that I made an assessment it was a body retrieval and not a rescue.
“The officers were trained to go into ankle deep water, which is level one, so we waited for level two officers, who can go into chest high. One of the police officers told me he would like to go in the water and I advised him in the strongest terms not to.” Mr Nicholls’s superior, Tim Spencer-Peet, said he had been happy with the watch manager’s decision-making.
The inquest continues.