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Should 'Health and Safety' Interfere with how Emergency Services Perform Rescues?

Updated on October 27, 2012
42-year-old Philip Surridge (pictured) had fallen beneath the ice after trying to rescue his friend Paul Litchfield who had rushed to the aid of his dog
42-year-old Philip Surridge (pictured) had fallen beneath the ice after trying to rescue his friend Paul Litchfield who had rushed to the aid of his dog

'Please don't let me die': Drowning man's pleas to watching firemen as they refused to go to his aid

A man died after firefighters refused to rescue him from a frozen lake, an inquest heard yesterday.

Philip Surridge screamed ‘help me, please don’t let me die’ as he struggled in the water. But a fire crew sent to the scene wouldn’t go to his aid because they were not trained in water rescues.

Yesterday Mr Surridge’s mother accused the firefighters of ‘condemning her son to death’.

Mr Surridge, 42, had jumped in to the lake to try to save his friend Paul Litchfield, who had disappeared beneath ice as he attempted to pull his dog from the water.

A passer-by, Stephen Smith, heard Mr Surridge’s cries for help and dialled 999 before wading in to the water.

But although fire crews arrived minutes later, they refused to help him because it was against policy.

Mr Surridge’s mother, Beryl Hindlaugh, told the inquest: ‘I know that if a member of the fire brigade had gone in along with Stephen I am sure my son had the mental and physical strength to bring himself out of the water.

‘I am so sorry to sit here and have to face the fire brigade because the fire brigade condemned my son to his death. My son was still alive (when they arrived). Why couldn’t humanity just have taken over?’

Pleas: 42-year-old Philip Surridge (pictured) had fallen beneath the ice after trying to rescue his friend Paul Litchfield who had rushed to the aid of his dog

The inquest heard a team of four retained firefighters had left an inflatable hose – which could have reached Mr Surridge – on their fire engine, which was parked 1,300ft from the scene at Brightwell Lake, near Ringstead, Northamptonshire.

It was said Mr Surridge, of Corby, and Mr Litchfield, 30, from Raunds, both in Northamptonshire, were regular hunting partners and were searching for ducks when Mr Litchfield’s labrador, Amy, fell into the water.

He ran across the ice, but the ice cracked and he fell in, prompting Mr Surridge to go in after him before getting stuck 100ft from the bank.

Stephen Smith had already entered the water by the time fire crews arrived on December 21. He pleaded with them to tie a rope around him so he could reach Mr Surridge.

Mr Smith told the inquest: ‘I was getting very frustrated and angry with the fire crew. I felt the fire crew weren’t doing enough.

‘When I went to tie the rope around me my hands were too cold. I asked the firefighter to help. He said “I can’t. I just can’t”.’ By the time three boats and six specialist water rescue officers arrived soon afterwards, Mr Surridge had disappeared beneath the surface.

The crew saved the dog but called off the search for the two men after two hours.

Mr Surridge’s body was retrieved on December 24 and Mr Litchfield’s on December 30. A post-mortem examination revealed both men died of immersion in cold water.

Crew manager Kevin Brown told the inquest he ordered his men not to enter the water as they only had ‘basic water awareness training’.

He said: ‘I decided it was inappropriate to go into the water because of temperatures and weather conditions and the fact that if someone had gone in, we only had a fire kit on with tracksuits and t-shirts underneath.’

Mr Brown said they tried to rescue Mr Surridge using ‘throw lines’ but they were not long enough. Philip Pells, Northamptonshire fire and rescue service’s head of operations, told Northamptonshire coroner Anne Pember that fire crews would follow the same policy if a similar situation arose in the future.

He said it was national policy for firefighters not to try a rescue using a rope around a person as an anchor because firefighters had died in the past doing exactly that.

Since the deaths, the fire service has issued each of its 70 swift water rescuers with a personal dry suit.

Recording an accidental verdict on both men, Mrs Pember warned it was ‘quite frankly not worth the risk to human life’ of going into water to save animals.

Quoted From:

The above story I find both shocking and alarming. My Step Father used to be Chief Fire Officer in Liverpool Fire Brigade, ultimately ending up as Fire Chief of the Guernsey Fire Brigade. He worked his way up from the very basics, and has always stated that being a Fire Fighter is "a calling", in other words a job in which you want to make a difference, to save lives, and clearly NOT to be stopped from performing heroic actions by plain and simple interference from not only Health and Safety regulations, but from sheer bureaucracy gone mad.

I can vouch for the fact he is totally disgusted by this story, so much so that he has written an open letter to the Daily Mail (who published the above article), stating his feelings on the matter, and pointing out that anyone in the rescue service has to be allowed to use their initiative when it comes to saving lives. To have their hands tied by health and safety regulations essentially 'hobbles' them from being able to answer the 'calling' they signed up for.

Personally what I find so horrific is that clearly these firemen obeyed their supervisor and watched a man drown rather than lose their jobs!! I appreciate they probably had families, but my God, how much risk would have been involved to them personally if they had assisted the passer by who needed help to tie the rope around himself before they could then have held the other end of it to ensure he could be pulled to safety? In the worst case scenario they might have faced disciplinary action, but they would have known that they did what they always wanted to do, help to save a life. This is so much more than just another job or career. The people who do these jobs for a living could often earn better salaries with less risks in a different job, but they choose to try and save lives, so why not allow them to do just that!

I am not ashamed to admit this story left me choked up completely. My Step Father saved many lives during his long career in the Fire Service, (frequently by using his own initiative), and I can't help wondering how many less he might have saved if he had followed every health and safety rule going. If this 'calling' is going to be restricted by not allowing uniformed 'heroes' to exist any more, then what is the point of joining up in the first place! Far better to form private groups of volunteers in each area, people who really want to save lives, and are willing to risk their own to do so, and without interference from out of control health and safety regulations.

My Step Father's Letter to the Daily Mail

The Editor,
Daily Mail Letters,
2 Derry Street,
W8 5TT
3rd Nov 2010

Dear Sir

Daily Mail, Oct 29th 2010

When all else fails - do your best!

I read with great sadness the account of a man drowning in a lake, while a fire crew stood helplessly by on the bank. This turned to anger as it was revealed that the fire crew, who are also classed and paid as rescuers, were rendered useless by regulations.

It seems the crew, who had undergone basic water awareness training, were ordered not to enter the water because it was too cold, even though they were wearing fire kit with tracksuits and t-shirts underneath. As a result of this, they resorted to using 'throw-lines' in attempts to reach the man crying out to them for assistance. Sadly, the lines proved to be too short.

At this stage, the obvious thing to do would be to send a member of the crew wading out into the lake breaking the ice ahead of him with his axe, with a safety line tied around him, with orders to use a 'throw-line' when he reached his own safety limit set by depth. This could have been done in minutes, and although the man would have been chilled it might well have succeeded. Far short of this, it seems the rescue crew barely got their boots wet.

For a taste of what they are up against, the Head of Operations of the Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service informed the coroner that it was national policy for fire-fighters not to try a rescue using a rope around a person as an anchor, because fire-fighters (he didn't say how many) had died in the past doing exactly that. He then went on to tell the coroner that his fire crews would follow the same policy if a similar situation arises in the future.

As an ex-fire-fighter with thirty-five years service under my belt I find this shameful. The statement most certainly has the stamp of Health & Safety at Work about it, rather than the traditional Fire Service attitude towards saving life. Yes, crews must have good equipment, and they must have training, but if every conceivable aspect of rescue has to be fully covered all fire engines will be hopelessly overloaded, and the men will never leave the training schools to become operational.

There has to be room for innovation in the Fire and Rescue Services - the fire crews are quite good at improvising when necessary. When the equipment they have to hand is inadequate, or training procedures don't quite cover the needs of the emergency, the crews must be encouraged to improvise and do the best they can. This will save more lives than it costs.

Yours faithfully

James Cassaday


I can easily quote other similar instances such as:

"Amid the disturbing evidence at last week’s inquest into the deaths of the 52 victims of the 7/7 London bombings, there was a moment of great clarity.

Survivor Michael Henning described how he stumbled to safety from the wreckage of a bombed Tube train at Aldgate station and pleaded with a group of emergency workers to go underground and help injured and dying passengers.

The firemen on the station platform seemed embarrassed and explained that they had been ordered to stay out of the tunnel because of fears of a second explosion.

Victims died in agony during the delay – and there proved to be no second bomb."


"Ambulancemen in Cumbria were widely criticised for standing by for vital hours while the gunshot victims of taxi driver Derrick Bird bled to death.

The explanation given later was that they had been refused permission to advance by the police because of fears that Bird might open fire on them. He was already dead and nobody will ever know how many lives could have been saved had the emergency services acted sooner.

I spent 35 years as a police officer before retiring as Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and I’m dismayed but not surprised by the rise of this self-serving risk assessment culture.

Who can now imagine an officer having the bravery and initiative of the Metropolitan, Police Commander who at the height of the 1981 Brixton riots commandeered a fire engine, drove it into the centre of an angry mob and dispersed the crowd by firing water from the hoses?

Anyone doing the same today would immediately be sidelined as a maverick
taking unnecessary risks."


Idealistic firefighters, police officers and ambulance crews have always joined their services believing they may be called upon to put their safety on the line. But force discipline is taken seriously in the emergency services.

Young officers are taught to follow procedures and ordered not to take risks by senior officers who have never known the old virtues of leadership, initiative, judgment and duty.

These are the officers (they are managers, rather than leaders) who visibly blanch every year when the police bravery awards are announced.

Where you and I see heroes being dec­orated for acting without regard to their own safety, these paper shufflers see potential lawsuits, insurance claims and breaches of force discipline.

This Coalition Government, at least, seems to recognise that there is a problem. Lord Young spent three months poring over health and safety regulations and the Prime Minister last month pledged to free the emergency services and teachers from senseless health and safety rules.

But sweeping away the red tape will make no difference without a complete culture change.

The police, fire and ambulance services must be made to understand that they owe a duty of responsibility first and foremost to the public who pay their wages, and that leaders, not managers, are needed to drive the message home.

Rigid adherence to procedure is not the easy way out. A good leader at Aldgate would have assumed authority and ordered his crews in to help injured passengers on a bombed Tube train. He would have dealt with the crisis first and worried about health and safety later.

And if a single life had been saved, they would have been hailed as fitting heirs to the
wartime Blitz Spirit.

Former Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner David Gilbertson’s book on the decline of the police, The Strange Death Of Constable George Dixon, will be published in 2011.

What kind of idiots would tell police to tick 238 boxes on a safety form before they save a life?

Health 'n' safety? It’ll kill you. Or so runs the long-standing joke. What was once thought of as black humour, however, now turns out to be all too horribly true.

A document that ­surfaced yesterday ­illustrated the almost unbelievable extent to which health and safety regulations are preventing our emergency services from saving lives.

This was a three-page risk assessment questionnaire, which Metropolitan Police officers have to fill in before they can intervene in an emergency.

Ticking the boxes: Can one imagine anything more ridiculous than having to fill in this form just after a terrorist bomb has gone off?

One might think that what ­matters in such cases is the risk to the public. But no — what is to be assessed is the risk to the police.

The form lists no fewer than 238 possible hazards to officers planning any kind of operational activity, such as security at a football match, or mounting an operation to deal with an emergency, such as a ­bombing or a riot.

The senior officer involved must tick the relevant boxes, fill in an inventory of ‘risk activities’, calculate levels of risk and submit their recommendation for the assessment to be confirmed and signed.


Such a form — which has its equivalent in other emergency services — is more than just a bureaucratic pain in the neck. It comes close to redefining the word ‘risk’ to encompass the whole of human life. For it is hard to think of any situation which it does not consider to pose a threat to an officer’s health or safety.

Its exhaustive list of dangers range from ‘gravity’, ‘friction’, ‘ejection’ or ‘slippery surfaces’ to the laugh-out-loud ‘uncomfortable seating’, ‘passive smoking’ and ‘sunburn’.

You really do have to wonder about the faceless bureaucrats who dream up this kind of nonsense. Can they really do so with a straight face? Is there perhaps a fifth ­column of anarchists in Whitehall seeking revenge upon society by passing such ­ludicrous, lethal and self-defeating laws?

Can one imagine anything more ridiculous than having to fill in this form just after a terrorist bomb has gone off? The very fact that such ‘risks’ have to be weighed up threatens to paralyse the emergency ­services and lead to the deaths of victims if officers don’t have a comfy chair to sit on, for ­example, or if the sun is shining.

Yet, appallingly, such paralysis is precisely what did happen. At the inquest into the 7/7 London Tube and bus bombings, in which 52 people died, distressing evidence has surfaced that station staff and fire ­officers refused to enter the Tube tunnels to help the wounded and dying because of health and safety regulations.

At Liverpool Street station, none of the staff was sent down to the track for 25 ­minutes after the explosion, as a British Transport Police officer forbade them from going to investigate.

So, to return to the point of this article. Surely something has gone very wrong if people who choose to be employed in careers that may allow them to save lives, be them firemen, policemen, ambulance men or lifeboat crews, are not allowed to be 'heroes' because of 'Health and Safety' regulations and risk assessments! Are we becoming a culture that will stand by and watch a person die because we might face disciplinary action or being fired if we use our initiative to save a life? Do you want your taxes paying the wages of people who we think might save our lives, when one day we might be drowning and seeing them standing standing on the bank watching us die because some government official decided that the risk of saving us was too great?

The fact it is well known that women prefer a man in uniform is not without good reason, most probably because women associate men in uniform with heroes, our 'knights in shining armour', men (or women) who will risk their lives to save others. Is this all going to end because of bureaucracy gone mad that ties the hands of our heroes and stops them answering the very calling they heard and acted upon? Surely this defeats the whole point of having rescue services at all!

I know how I feel, I am with Bonnie Tyler on this one, and I am most definitely "Holding Out for a Hero"!

Holding out for a Hero

Please Vote Here And Be Heard

Do you think the emergency services should be left to use their initiative without "Health and Safety" legislation?

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    • mistyhorizon2003 profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Lawson 

      10 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      PS Sally, the fact 3 dogs and a cat died because of this stupid and greedy legislation makes me totally sick. Thanks for bringing this to further public attention.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Lawson 

      10 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Hi Pat, I agree the emergency services should be fully trained, but I do feel the authorities will place this above all else, including basic common sense, and to such an extraordinary degree that those in need of rescue will suffer ultimately.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Lawson 

      10 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Thank you Sally, it is so hard to comprehend that someone not paying for a service could possibly be left to see their house burn down. What kind of world are we living in when an emergency service is only available to those who pay, or who can afford to). The cost of this service should be built into all the other taxes and services we are obliged to pay for with no option.

    • 2patricias profile image


      10 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Hello Misty,

      This is a very well written and compelling Hub. I did vote 'yes', but I would want to add that all Emergency Services crews must be properly trained. I am concerned that in times of financial stringency (ie NOW) that there may be savings (stupid) on training.

      There are also some times when Health & Safety advice is good - but it should be applied in training to teach crews how to assess risks.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Your country is not alone in this inanity. Early in October Tennessee firefighters let a house burn to the ground because the homeowner had not paid his 75 USD fee for fire protection. You can read about it here:

      Although the reasons for "non-response" were different in this case and yours, what remains the same, as you so eloquently wrote, Misty, is that those who choose this profession do so because they are following a calling. I cannot imagine being a firefighter just standing there at the edge of the lake or in front of the house fire, having the equipment, knowhow, and determination at the ready, and not being able to act because of a rule.

      Thanks for illuminating such an important issue.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Lawson 

      10 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Thank you Bob, TLA, Kathryn and BD, your comments and support are so reassuring. It is wonderful to know that there are many sane voices of reason out there who feel the same way I do on this matter. Again, sincerely Thank you.

    • BDazzler profile image


      10 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      Life is not safe. Putting cowards in charge of our society ultimately makes it more unsafe.

      Thanks Misty.

    • kathryn1000 profile image


      10 years ago from London

      Even an ordinary man would have tried to help.My father once rescued my sister who fell into an old mill pond when she was two.It was then a yacht lake.some other men just stood there but dad went in up to his neck,though he couldn't swim.Strangely my sister has always like water.She said it felt nice floating on the water!!We were all standing on the bank throwing stones in [probably forbidden and dad was nearby picking blackberries.Alas he took ill and died four yrs later.

    • The Loan Arranger profile image

      The Loan Arranger 

      10 years ago

      Health & Safety has just become ridiculous and now actually operates to prevent acts of heroism. Firefighhters are reluctant to save people for fear of being sued. Fortunately, our new Prime Minister has threatened to get rid of such stupidity in order to allow our rescue services to operate without fear of repurcussions. Let us hope that he doesn't back track and carries this one through.

      As usual Misty, an excellent hub.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi Missie:

      I just had time to skim through your excellent article this a.m. I am getting to the stage that nothing negative, thieving duplicious or low-minded surprises me in the awful land. I am sure no other country's firemen would have acted in such a cowardly way - for that was what it was, one way or another. I used to so respect and admire firemen. But I was in the USA and Mexico at the time.

      Britain has become completely beyond the pale in every way. So much so, that wasting any valuable time even thinking about the place is so nauseating to me I try not to do it and just live my life in a cocoon.

      That's why most of my hubs are concerned with nature where perhaps I can prolong the tenure of our wonderful creatures, all have more to admire than the British.

      I will read your article in depth later. Bob


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