'He was a good swimmer, he could swim before he could walk' - Dad of drowning victim warns of water danger as heatwave hits

The dad of a young man who died after falling into the River Wear has called on people to look out for each other as the summer holiday heatwave continues.

By Fiona Thompson
Thursday, 25 July, 2019, 06:00

With temperatures expected to hit 27 °C tomorrow (Thursday, July 25) a warning has been issued for holidaymakers to keep safe while around water.

Dave Irwin, 46, has become a campaigner in the wake of his son Ross’s death in the River Wear in Fatfield, Washington, following a night out in December 2016.

In the wake of the 22-year-old’s death, his family have installed a bench near to the water and have also backed a series of safety measures including life rings on the banks of the river.

Water safety campaigner David Irwin with emergency throwline dedicated in memory of his son, Ross Irwin.

Dave, a crew manager for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service based at Washington Community Fire Station, has invested his knowledge and experience into educating youngsters on how to stay safe, leading talks in schools and at sessions held at SafetyWorks, which passes on lifesaving messages to children.

“We think Ross fell and blacked out straight away and that it was cold water shock led him to drown,” he said.

“That’s why we want to get the message across and say how important it is to educate your kids about that danger.

Ross Irwin, 22, who died after falling into the River Wear in Washington.

“I have always said I won’t let him die in vain and any person could drown, and I don’t want any family to go through what we have, it’s been absolutely horrific.

“I’ve got a video I show the children about Ross and it’s quite hard hitting and when the video finishes, the silence from the young people is deafening.”

Ross, who had cerebral palsy and 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.

It is thought he ended up in the water after lost his footing on the river bank close to the stretch of pubs on Bonemill Lane.

Dave Irwin pictured with his son Ross.

His death also left mum Debbie and brother Jack, 15, devastated.

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Dave, who lives in Washington, added: “Ross was a good swimmer, he could swim before he could walk, and I made sure he was a good swimmer because of his disability.

“We’re having a heatwave this week and we’ve got lots of people around open water.”

The stretch of the River Wear, at Fatfield, Washington, where Ross Irwin lost his life.

Sunderland City Council has backed Dave’s calls and has urged young people to stay safe near water during the summer holidays, as is the RNLI, which has already dealt with calls including two girls being swept out to see on an inflatable flamingo.

The charity has urged people to only swim off beaches which are monitored by lifeguards and in between the red and yellow flags.

Councillor John Kelly, the council’s cabinet member for communities and culture, said: "No one wants to see their loved ones go through what Ross's family has gone through so I'd urge everyone to follow the advice of the RNLI in staying safe.

“Drowning is the third highest accidental cause of death in young people in the UK, so it's really important that young people, their parents, grandparents and the wider community are aware of the dangers and think about whether it's safe before they venture into the water.

"Sadly, Ross's death is only one of a number of fatalities in the city in recent years and we know all too well how easy it is to get into difficulty in the water, which is why continue to work with partners like the RNLI and RLSS and the emergency services to promote water safety messages."

The bench dedicated to Ross Irwin at Fatfield riverside.

The RNLI’s team of guards monitoring Sunderland’s seafront will be on duty from 10am to 6pm daily during the holidays.More information can be found via its site respectthewater.com.

Sunderland has had an active Water Safety Partnership since 2015 which works to raise awareness of the dangers of swimming in open water with an annual water safety programme.

This is led by the council and its members include the RNLI, the RLSS, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Northumbria Police and Everyone Active.

Firefighter Dave Irwin at the memorial bench for his son, Ross Irwin.