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Accidental': U.K. Inquiry Rules on Man's Shallow-Water Death After First Responders Refused to Help -- Recommends Training


"Firefighters need to be trained to water rescue level two if they want to save someone from drowning in a three-foot deep lake..."

It was back in February that The Blaze first reported on Simon Burgess, a 41-year-old charity worker who drowned in three feet of water after an emergency crew refused to rescue him. Burgess reportedly fell into the water in a shallow lake in Gosport, England, in March 2011 and remained there for 28 minutes until a rescue team that was legally able to help him arrived. But at that point, it was too late.

The inquiry into his death that was launched two months ago following public outcry has apparently come to a close. David Horsley, the Portsmouth coroner overseeing the case, recorded a verdict of "accidental death" at the inquest, The News reports. Rather than legal retribution, the coroner has said that he will file a report with all three emergency service agencies involved that offers a recommendation that they improve their training.

The Blaze reached out to the coroner's office to better understand the details surrounding the tragic case. Our original e-mail asked for further information surrounding the inquest. We promptly received a response from a man named Dave Gregory, who wrote, "Thank you for your e mail. Before I reply could you advise me as to who you are and your interest in the inquest?"

In a follow-up message, The Blaze explained we were looking to provide additional information to our readers about what happened to Burgess. In yet another response, Gregory confirmed:

The inquest was held on 21/02/12 at Portsmouth Court. The verdict was death due to an accident. A report has been made recommending the fire, police and ambulance tighten up their training on time taken for drown and rescue procedures.

When we responded and asked for a copy of the report, along with a number of other questions and considerations surrounding the case, Gregory wrote, "No, a copy of the report cannot be released. We cannot assist further."

As The Daily Mail initially reported, firefighters aren't allowed to save anyone from drowning -- even in three feet of water -- unless they attend a two-day training course:

Firefighters need to be trained to water rescue level two if they want to save someone from drowning in a three foot deep lake...

The rules are set down in the firefighters own health and safety policy document LSO 34.

Under the wording of the rules, rescuers trained to level one can only go into water that is ankle deep - even if someone is in difficulty.

During the two-day level two training session firefighters have to go to lectures, conduct exercises and take part in practical demonstrations.

Although one of the first responders was 'level two' trained he did not have appropriate equipment with him - so Mr Burgess had to be left dying in the water, the inquest was told.

Changes to these regulations -- pending they actually occur -- do nothing to bring Burgess back and leave no requirement, it seems, for the laws surrounding incidents like this from officially changing. The previous coverage The Blaze offered provides a lens into the failures that existed at all levels of the rescue process:

The firemen, who were reportedly only 25 feet away from Burgess, allegedly refused to rescue the man, as they cited health and safety regulations. And a police officer who arrived after learning about the incident was reportedly called back after he started moving into the ankle-deep water to rescue the man.

When the specially-quipped team eventually made it to the scene, the man was transported to a local hospital where he later died. Authorities suspect that Burgess initially fell into the water after suffering an epileptic fit.

Apparently, there's been a pattern of unneeded deaths as it pertains to drowning in the U.K. (there was even a recent embarrassing event during which 25 firefighters declined to help a drowning seagull). The Daily Mail's Richard Littlejohn explains:

During the inquest into Mr Burgess’s death, a police officer insisted that he wanted to attempt a rescue but was told by his control room that ‘under no circumstances’ was he to go into the water. In 2007, ten-year-old Jordan Lyon drowned in a pond while the emergency services stood back and watched because they didn’t have ‘water rescue’ training.

And the following year, Karl Malton, 32, drowned in 18 inches of water in Lincolnshire, when a senior fire officer stopped his men climbing down a 15 ft bank following another ‘risk assessment’.

Sadly, it seems Burgess is the most recent victim of a failed legislative and rescue system. Last month, The News also reported that the community had come together to honor the man with a special park bench at the site of the accident. Burgess, who went to Walpole Park numerous times to feed the birds each day, was commemorated with a special bench in the exact spot he once sat.

A message on the newfound monument reads, "Missed by all those whose lives he touched. Simon ‘Swan Man’ Burgess."

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