Why the wall of secrecy over a matter of concern?

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We want to be the best fire and rescue service in the country and make life safer for everyone by reducing risks in our local communities.

Not our words, of course, but the declared mission of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Here’s another of their promises: ‘We will work with our communities to make sure that we are better prepared to deal with major threats and emergencies.’

These, and a declared intention to increase contact with the public, are commendable aims. We support them, just as we have backed over the years many of the service’s public safety initiatives.

And we continue to salute the firefighters themselves who are a credit to the service and ready to put their lives on the line when necessary in the call of duty.

But we cannot support – or see how it fits with the statements above – the service’s steadfast refusal to tell the public anything at all about the water depth testing it clearly has been carrying out at Canoe Lake in Southsea.

Given the drowning tragedy at Walpole Park in Gosport earlier this month, these are trying times for a service undoubtedly smarting from widespread criticism over the fact that the first firefighters at the scene were ordered not to go into waist-deep water to reach the man floating face down in the middle of the boating lake.

Fire chiefs say he was visibly dead and that they were justified in waiting for a specialist unit.

But many question whether more could and should have been done to seek to revive a man who had been in the water for less time than others who have subsequently survived. And many too are asking what the fire service response would be in a similar emergency elsewhere. At Canoe Lake, for instance.

So people have an absolute right to know why firemen were testing the water depth there last week. A failure to communicate that information can only invite confusion, concern, and even fear.

Firefighters justifiably enjoy a tremendous rapport with the public. It is damaged if their bosses erect a wall of secrecy around a matter of understandable and legitimate public interest.