WHAT are we to make of the fire crew, police and paramedics who stood timidly at the edge of a Hampshire boating lake watching a man’s body float nearby?
As we reported this week, the body of 41-year-old Simon Burgess lay in water 3ft deep for half an hour after rescue services arrived until a boat could be found.
Onlookers told officers when they arrived that Mr Burgess had only been in the water for five minutes and implored them to act.
Whether or not attempting to move Mr Burgess from the lake at Gosport’s Walpole Lake would have saved his life isn’t known. An inquest into his accidental death could not confirm such actions would have prevented him from drowning.
But while such facts are important to Mr Burgess’s distraught family, just as worrying for the rest of us is the question as to why so many emergency personnel stood inactive when the normal reaction of any human being would be to wade out the short distance and render assistance.
Was it a case of good old health and safety gone mad once again?
To be fair, both a police officer and a paramedic who arrived at the scene did volunteer to wade out, but were ordered not to do so by fire personnel. Why fire officers have the ability to command the police is not clear. In the case of a burning building it is easy to see why fire officers should be in control. But at a boating lake?
And do such instructions overrule common sense and decency?
In short, should the medical officer and the policeman have simply just waded in putting human life before petty command structures?
Of course they should have, but that is just one part of the puzzling behaviour we witnessed here.
Even stranger is the statement from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service that in fact the instructions given to their team and other emergency personnel present to wait at the water’s edge had nothing to do with health and safety nor the depth of the water.
They didn’t go to the rescue because they could see no signs of life. Which begs the question of how they knew for certain, why they didn’t allow a trained medical man to go and check, and why, when the police officer present pressed to be permitted to attempt a rescue he was ordered to stay where he was.
It’s difficult to remain calm when stepping back from all these facts and considering the scene and the actions of those involved.
It is difficult to understand how anyone, let alone those whose duty it is to save lives, could stand by and allow a man’s body to float in 3ft of water just yards away for half an hour when they had no certain knowledge he could not be saved.
All of this I find very difficult to understand. I know I am not alone.
I know I would have waded out.
Human decency would have caused me to act. I am not a hero, I am not all that brave.
I have nothing but admiration usually for those who serve in the fire service, the police and our paramedics who often wade into danger to the aid of others.
I do not believe it was cowardice nor a lack of compassion that left them stranded at the water’s edge.
It was silly, stupid procedures and a culture of fear – fear of blame, fear of reprimand, fear of breaking ranks.
Am I surprised then that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service having investigated the incident and made changes to their procedures – changes they have not revealed – still issued a statement supporting the actions of their staff and crew on that dreadful day?
No, sadly I am not surprised, just saddened.