Fire crews made the right call leaving body in lake, says chief

SCENE Walpole Park immediately after the body of Simon Burgess had been taken from the lake
SCENE Walpole Park immediately after the body of Simon Burgess had been taken from the lake

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A FIRE chief has defended firefighters who stood by without rescuing a man found floating face-down in a lake.

Simon Burgess was found floating in the water at Walpole Park in Gosport shortly after midday on Thursday last week.

TRIBUTES Simon Burgess

TRIBUTES Simon Burgess

Gosport firefighters were the first to arrive at the scene but decided there were no visible signs of life and did not wade in to reach the 41-year-old.

Instead, they waited for a specialist water rescue unit from Fareham, which led to a delay of almost 30 minutes.

Deputy chief fire officer Dave Curry, of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, says the fire crew made the proper judgement.

He said: ‘The body was submerged at the time of arrival and the initial officers had to have the person pointed out to them.

‘Therefore they deemed no signs of life and summoned the specialist crews. They made a judgement about the situation.’

Mr Curry said firefighters are not trained to look for signs of life in these situations but added: ‘They will make an assessment if an individual has been under the surface.

‘These are professional, competent officers who make decisions every day in difficult situations.

‘I think they made the proper judgement.’

The deputy fire chief would not comment on why there was a 14-minute delay between the specialist unit arriving at the scene and removing the man from the lake.

Royston Smith – chairman of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority – has confirmed it will hold a probe into the circumstances surrounding Mr Burgess’ death.

Cllr Smith said: ‘We will look very carefully at what happened and how the call was handled.

‘If there are lessons to be learned then those will be looked at. There will be a report written and it will be looked at in detail.

‘We do that as a matter of course, especially if there is a fatality.

‘It’s unfortunate that by the time they went into the water the man was dead.

‘We have a commendable fire service and they are well-trained.

‘Some of them are out in Japan now trying to dig through rubble and find survivors.’

There have been growing demands for an inquiry into the death of Mr Burgess, of White Lion Walk, Gosport.

The leader of Gosport Borough Council, Cllr Mark Hook, said: ‘I have asked the police to investigate the issues because there are a lot of unanswered questions.

‘We need to understand the full facts. We want a comprehensive explanation of what happened.

‘It’s a tragic loss of life and I don’t think we need to have knee-jerk reactions.

‘We need to look at the circumstances around it.’

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage has also called for an inquiry along with Gill Hughes, the 53-year-old who called the emergency services after she spotted Mr Burgess in the lake.

Ms Hughes, of Beryton Road, Gosport, who was with her young grandson at time, said: ‘I started taking my boots off myself to go in after him but I had my two-year-old grandson with me.

‘I couldn’t leave him by the side.

‘You expect the fire brigade to be able to do something about it.’

Mr Burgess’ body was retrieved at 12.45pm after the specialist water unit arrived from Fareham.

Hampshire fire service said his body was around 25m away from the edge of the lake.

He suffered from a form of epilepsy and would have regular blackouts and seizures.

Despite requests to speak to senior officers, Hampshire Police said it would not add anything further to the statements it has already issued.

Survival ‘extremely unlikely’ after 30 minutes

A PHYSIOLOGIST has said Mr Burgess’ chances of survival after spending 30 minutes underwater were ‘extremely unlikely.’

Professor Mike Tipton, from the University of Portsmouth, said speed is crucial in saving people from water.

He said: ‘The younger you are and the shorter period of time you have been submerged, the greater chance you have of being resuscitated.

‘There are accounts of people surviving quite long periods of submersion but two-thirds of those cases are children.’

Mr Burgess had been face-down in the boating lake at Walpole Park for between five and 10 minutes.

Prof Tipton added: ‘If it’s between five and 10 minutes then the chances [of survival] are much better than if it’s over 10 minutes.

‘When you fall into water you get a cold shock response which is an involuntary breath.

‘The lethal dose of salt water is 1.5 litres. One large breath is about 5 litres.’

Eyewitnesses say Mr Burgess was walking in the water for around five minutes before he was seen floating face-down.

Prof Tipton says his body may have adapted slightly to the temperature of the water.

He said: ‘He would have a smaller cold shock response.

‘There are instances where people have survived.

‘But the water has to be six degrees or lower.’