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Grieving Sunderland dad backs life saving equipment at riverside

Ross Irwin
Ross Irwin
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The dad of a Sunderland man who drowned has backed plans for life saving equipment at the riverside.

Ross Irwin from Washington was pulled from the River Wear on Christmas Eve 2016 following what his dad Dave believes was a tragic accident.

Ross, who worked at the Child Benefit Centre at Waterview Park, had been on a night out after work on December 23 and was last seen telling friends he was going to get a taxi to Sunderland.

Dad Dave believes the popular 22-year-old fell into the water after losing his footing on the riverbank where he had gone to spend a penny. His body was found about 100 yards down river.

Now Dave, who is a crew manager at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, is backing the installation by Sunderland City Council of a potentially life-saving throw line board on the riverside opposite the Biddick Inn at Fatfield which will be dedicated to his son.

Unlike traditional life buoys, the throwline 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, which means it should be less prone to theft and vandalism.

Coun John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, said: "We're delighted to be trialling this new piece of potentially lifesaving equipment and to have the backing of Ross's dad, Dave. No parent should ever have to go through what he and his family have gone through and he's shown tremendous courage in speaking out about this tragedy in order to help others.

"Sadly Ross is not the only person to have died on this stretch of river. Schoolgirls Chloe Fowler and Tonibeth Purvis tragically lost their lives here in 2013 and we had another sad death in December 2014 so this is something that's definitely worth exploring."

Ross's dad, Dave said: "This is very emotional for all of the family to see this throw line board in memory of Ross. He was so selfless and caring and was always first in the queue to help his family and friends if they needed help.

“Ross would not of wanted us to just sit back and do nothing about his tragedy, I’m sure he would be very proud of the what we have achieved over the past 12 month in water safety. "

He wanted to thank Firefighter Tommy Richardson, who has been relentless in securing this board's location and raised funds, alongside Beccy Ramsey, who also lost her son to drowning, for this throw line board and hopes it will be the first of many in the city.

The throwline board has been funded by Washington East councillors using community chest funding.

Councillor Tony Taylor, said: "As a Washington councillor I know only too well the tragic toll Ross's death and those of Chloe Fowler and Tonibeth Purvis have had on their families, friends and the wider community here. So I'm really pleased to have been able to work with my fellow councillors, Fiona Miller and David Snowdon to find the funding for this to go ahead."

Sunderland's annual water safety programme has seen:

• Water safety lessons delivered to more than 150,000 children in primary schools in Sunderland since 1994. The RNLI also deliver practical water safety sessions with their Hit the Surf programme.

• A dvd put together with the help of two schoolgirls who tragically died at Fatfield warning young people of the dangers of open water. This was well received and viewed by over 2k people on Youtube

• Competitions challenging schools across the city to come up with a hard-hitting advert to educate people about the risks around water.

• Lifeguards and extensive water safety signage at three beaches including Roker, 7 days a week from the end of May to mid September, with patrols of up to 9 lifeguards on duty from 10.00am – 6.00pm each day.

• A boat patrolling the River Wear from the river mouth to Fatfield from Easter to September every weekend, school holidays and public holidays, from 11am to 7pm, giving safety advice and guidance to water users including those with inflatables.

The Water Safety Partnership is led by Sunderland City Council and its members include the RNLI, the RLSS, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Northumbria Police, Everyone Active.