United Utilities and fire service urge people to stay out of open water ahead of Summer holidays

Date published: 21 July 2021

As temperatures continue to soar across the UK, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) and United Utilities are urging people to stay safe by not swimming or jumping into open water.

United Utilities has issued a warning to visitors to its reservoir sites ahead of the summer holidays about the dangers of swimming in open water and wildfires. 

The plea comes after more than 10 people lost their lives, or remain missing, in open water across the UK since the heatwave began this year.

Reservoirs can be extremely dangerous with deep water and steep sides making it difficult to get out. There are also strong currents caused by the machinery under the water and the reservoirs are also very cold which can cause shock. 

With lots of reservoirs being in remote locations, it can be difficult for emergency services to help anyone in trouble. 

There is clear signage at all United Utilities reservoirs explaining the dangers of swimming, and the company has installed throwlines at 20 locations around eight reservoirs across Greater Manchester and Lancashire, each dedicated to the memory of someone who lost their life.



Paul Lawson
16-year-old Paul sadly drowned in June 2017 after he went swimming with his friends in Greenbooth Reservoir in Norden


GMFRS’ Head of Prevention, Area Manager Paul Duggan, said: “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of all those who have lost loved ones in open water, particularly over the past week or so, since the prolonged hot weather arrived.

“We urge people not to go into open water, no matter how hot it is outside. Even strong swimmers can suffer from cold water shock, and it can kill you in just 60 seconds. You also never know how unpredictable under-water currents can be, or what is lurking beneath the surface - people have drowned after getting tangled up in undergrowth and other things hiding in the water.

“We don’t want to stop people having fun, though safety is key here as we continue with our mission to educate people of the dangers that come with going into open water.”

GMFRS is supporting the first ever World Drowning Prevention Day, alongside other fire and rescue services in the UK and the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, in a bid to further raise awareness of the dangers of open water and prevent accidental drownings. The global event is organised by the World Health Organisation and will take place on Sunday 25 July.

Following the launch of its latest water safety campaign on 23 June, GMFRS is working closely with family members and friends who have lost loved ones to accidental drowning - who are sharing their ‘stories’ to prevent others having to go through what they have.

The second phase of the campaign sees new banners being put up in areas where young people have drowned or tend to visit with their friends, as well as at community fire stations across the city-region – with clear messages highlighting the dangers of open water.

Bespoke banners dedicated to those who have drowned in Greater Manchester’s waterways, and whose families are involved with the campaign, are also due to be put up at the River Etherow, Greenbooth Reservoir, and Debdale Park – where Jack Pullen, Paul Lawson and Mark Allen lost their lives.



Later on in the summer, adverts will be appearing on phone kiosks and digital displays across Greater Manchester, reinforcing the important message of never jumping into or swimming in open water.

Area Manager Duggan continued: “GMFRS’ firefighters carry out regular water rescue training, though sadly, many water incidents result in fatalities with people drowning before we have time to get to them.

“There are a number of throwlines in place across Greater Manchester’s high-risk waterways, such as Greenbooth Reservoir, Dovestone Reservoir and Debdale Park, containing information about what people should do if they come across someone who is struggling in the water.”


Fire at Dove Stone
Fire at Dovestone


United Utilities is also asking visitors to respect the environment when they visit its estates. As well as ensuring any litter is taken home or placed in bins, visitors are reminded not use disposable BBQs or light fires and to be very careful with cigarette ends. 

Disposable BBQs and fires are a real threat to moorlands around the estates.  In recent years there have been devastating fires at places like Darwen Moor and Saddleworth Moor.  Tinderbox-dry grass and the moorland environment, sudden winds and peaty soils mean fires start with a single spark and can be out of control in seconds.

Speaking ahead of the summer holidays, Estates and Land Manager for United Utilities, Ross Evans, said: “We know with the holidays upon us that many people will be looking for days out across the region.  If people are visiting our estates, we want to ensure they have a nice time and leave safely. 

“That’s why we’re reminding people about the particular dangers the hot weather can bring. We know that it can be tempting to cool down in this heat by taking a dip, but cold water shock can kill even strong swimmers in just 60 seconds. So don’t risk it. 

“We also don’t allow fires or BBQs as they can quickly start a wildfire.  As well as the damage they can cause to the environment, people don’t realise they’re putting themselves at risk as well.  Come and enjoy the countryside but please follow these simple rules and leave it as you would want to find it.”

For more information on reservoir safety visit: www.unitedutilities.com/about-us/recreation-sites/reservoir-safety/

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