Dad tells of ‘bittersweet moment’ as life-saving equipment is placed at spot where son died in river tragedy

Dave Irwin, whose son Ross drowned in the River Wear at Fatfield in December 2016, launches a new piece of lifesaving equipment named in his memory. Picture by Tom Banks
Dave Irwin, whose son Ross drowned in the River Wear at Fatfield in December 2016, launches a new piece of lifesaving equipment named in his memory. Picture by Tom Banks

The father of a young Wearside man who drowned in a river tragedy has spoken of his “bittersweet moment” as new safety equipment was unveiled in his memory.

The body of Ross Irwin was pulled out of the River Wear at Fatfield in Washington on Christmas Eve 2016, in what is believed to have been a tragic accident.

Ross Irwin (right), with his dad Dave.

Ross Irwin (right), with his dad Dave.

Popular Ross, 22, who worked at the Child Benefit Centre at Washington’s Waterview Park, had been on a night out after work the previous evening and was last seen telling friends he was going to get a taxi to Sunderland.

His loving dad Dave believes Ross into the water after losing his footing on the riverbank where he had gone to urinate.

Ross’s body was found about 100 yards down river.

Since his death, Ross’s family have tirelessly campaigned for safety improvements in the area and now throw line board has been installed close to the spot where Ross is thought to have fallen into the water.

Dave Irwin, whose son Ross drowned in the River Wear at Fatfield in December 2016, launches a new piece of lifesaving equipment named in his memory. Picture by Tom Banks

Dave Irwin, whose son Ross drowned in the River Wear at Fatfield in December 2016, launches a new piece of lifesaving equipment named in his memory. Picture by Tom Banks

The throw line, which bears Ross’s name, is secured in a lockbox attached to the board which can be opened with a code available by dialling 999 and speaking to the police or fire service.

Dave, a crew manager at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service from Washington, has been helped by colleague Tommy Richardson in getting funding for the board, as well as Beccy Ramsey, who also lost her son to drowning.

Dave said: “It’s a bittersweet moment for me to see the board unveiled with Ross’s name on.

“He was a caring type of person and he would not want me to sit back and do nothing after what happened.

“In a way Ross had no legacy because he didn’t have a wife or kids, but hopefully this will be and we don’t see any other person lose their lives in this river.

“For one person to die is too many.”

Sadly, Ross’s death is not the only tragedy to happen at the location in recent times, with schoolgirls Chloe Fowler and Tonibeth Purvis both losing their lives after getting into difficulties in the river in July 2013.

The lifeline has been funded by Washington East councillors Tony Taylor, Fiona Miller and David Snowdon using community chest funding.

Councillor John Kelly said: “Young people have no fear and inevitably they try and get into the water on a hot, sunny day.

“People have to stop and think about what they are trying to do.

“If you really want to enjoy the water, then go to the beach where there are lifeguards stationed and it’s more safe.”