Dad of drowning victim Ross Irwin helps to raise thousands for River Wear rescue equipment

A dad whose son drowned after a night out is helping to save other families from the same pain.

By Kevin Clark
Monday, 20th June 2022, 12:24 pm

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Ross Irwin was just 22 when he died in December 2016 after he fell into the River Wear at the end of a night out.Now dad Dave has joined a number of volunteers for a sponsored walk up Scafell Pike to raise cash for additional water safety equipment along the banks of the river.The walk raised £3,000, which has been matched by funding from Sunderland City Council's Washington East community chest, to pay for a new throwline board at Fatfield Slipway.

Unlike traditional life buoys which can be prone to theft and vandalism, throwlines are secured in a lockbox attached to the board, which can be opened with a code available by dialling 999 and speaking to the emergency services.

Speaking at the start of this year's annual Drowning Prevention Week, Dave said: "I’m always happy to support any regional and national campaign that highlights the dangers some waterways may pose to members of the public from a recreational or social point of view.

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"These crucial key messages are even more poignant to me, both as a firefighter and as a parent who has lost a beloved child to an incident of drowning. It will be six years this Christmas when we tragically lost Ross, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of him.”

Dave, a serving firefighter with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, added: "By sharing our experience and hitting home the importance of water safety we hope other families won’t feel the same pain as ours.

"Please keep safe and be extra vigilant around rivers and other waterways especially when walking home after enjoying a night out with friends and family."

The board has been installed in response to requests from residents. Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service had also expressed concerns that, despite the slipway being closed, it is still being used by individuals, in particular canoeists, and groups of young people during the summer.This is the fourth throwline board to be installed on a stretch of the river which also saw teenagers Tonibeth Purvis and Chloe Fowler drown after getting into difficulty in July 2013.

Dave Irwin (right) with (from left) former councillor Tony Taylor Fatfield Residents Association's John Parish and Neil Roscoe, and Tyne & Wear Fire Rescue Service's Tommy Richardson with the newly installed Throw Line at Fatfield Slipway

It joins existing boards at Mount Pleasant Lake, Pattinson South Pond and opposite the Biddick Inn at Fatfield riverside.Washington East ward councillor Councillor Fiona Miller said: "Residents felt there was a real need for this, given the increasing popularity of the area and its walking routes for residents and visitors alike which is why we were happy to jointly fund it.

"We're also truly grateful to Dave and to the other volunteers including former councillor Tony Taylor, who helped raise the other half of the funds for this potentially life-saving water safety equipment. Our thanks also go to all those who generously sponsored them.”Drowning Prevention Week is an annual campaign run by the Royal Life Saving Society UK to help people to enjoy water safely. The campaign encourages parents, schools, leisure centres and communities to use its free water safety resources, to give children the skills to enjoy a lifetime of fun in the water.

For information on water safety, visit: www.rlss.org.uk

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Members of Fatfield Resident's Association and volunteers who took part in the sponsored walk including Dave Irwin (second right)
Ross Irwin died after falling into the River Wear at Fatifield in December 2016