Skip to main content

Developed and maintained by the NFCC

Hazard

Failure to extricate the casualty without deterioration of their condition: Water rescue and flooding

Hazard Knowledge

Entering moving water to perform a rescue is a high-risk activity and should only be carried out by trained and equipped personnel. The first attendance may not be equipped with specialist water personal protective equipment (PPE). Attempting to rescue someone in dangerous circumstances can place the rescuer, the casualty and others in further danger. The first attendance should decide if it is safer to act or to contain the incident and wait for support.

In other cases, the casualty may be in shallow, still water in a known location and entry into the water may present minimal hazards.

Responders are not prohibited from taking reasonable action to save life before specialist resources arrive. Suitable control measures should be implemented before any action is taken. A considered approach needs to be adopted on the immediate need for rescue, the potential for securing casualties and to provide time to implement appropriate control measures. Firefighters may also be required to deal with members of the public recklessly attempting rescue.

Diving or jumping into the water is hazardous. Sub-surface objects, unknown depths and hazardous flows all present significant risks to responders. Sudden immersion in water may result in cold water shock, which causes the drawing in of a deep breath that can result in water being inhaled or swallowed and the pooling of blood in the torso and brain; this may cause even strong swimmers to lose motor function and strength.

Casualties that require rescue from water may panic, increasing the risk to rescuers. Casualties may pull rescuers under the water as they try to maintain their own airway, pull rescuers into the water as they attempt to pull themselves out, or act aggressively towards rescuers. This should be considered when selecting rescue techniques and control measures.