Off-duty firefighter saves two canoeists capsized in swollen River Severn

Two canoeists who capsized in a freezing river near Ironbridge were lucky to escape with their lives thanks to the actions of an off-duty fireman.

The River Severn at Buildwas. Photo: Google StreetView.
The River Severn at Buildwas. Photo: Google StreetView.

The two men had capsized in the River Severn and thanks to the quick actions of Andrew Reeves, an off-duty Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service firefighter from the Much Wenlock station, disaster was averted.

Mr Reeves was with his wife Emily, when they spotted two shapes in the River Severn while driving over the Buildwas bridge.

He said he identified the shapes as two men in distress being carried by the river after their canoes had capsized.

The heavily swollen flood conditions meant the water was extremely cold and carrying large amounts of debris.

Mr Reeves, who is experienced at dealing with water incidents with the service, said: “Luckily it was still light as we wouldn’t have spotted the two men who were clearly in trouble. We called 999 immediately and I made contact verbally shouting instructions to swim as hard as they could for the nearest eddy.

“One of the men managed to swim to shore but the second failed and was swept down river. I followed him down the river, shouting instructions and after some failed attempts, he managed to grab hold of a branch in an eddy which I then pulled out of the water to safety.

Despite wearing a dry suit, helmet and life jacket, the casualty was suffering from cold water shock and was very confused – a clear side effect of hypothermia and was transported to hospital by ambulance crews.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service's Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton praised the actions of Mr Reeves.

He said: “The vigilance of Firefighter Reeves is to be commended.

“His swift actions undoubtedly meant a large-scale multi-agency response involving vital resources such as personnel from all the emergency services and other resources such as helicopters were not deployed at this critical time during lockdown.

“It’s fair to say he saved the life of one of the canoeists – these men were clearly experienced and had the right equipment, showing how quickly situations can turn into real emergencies.

“In almost half of all fatal water incidents in the UK, the person had no intention of entering the water and were taking part in everyday activities such as walking or jogging. The casualty was only in the water for approximately 10 minutes and already experiencing hypothermia.”

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has encouraged people to complete the free water safety course created by West Mercia Search and Rescue. It can be found at westmerciasar.org.uk/homeanddry/free-water-safety-online-course/

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