After Simon Burgess, 41 fell into the water when he suffered a seizure and no fewer than 25 members of the emergency services, including a press officer and a helicopter, descended on a 3½ft-deep model boating lake. Fire station watch manager Tony Nicholls arrived at the scene within five minutes but refused to try to rescue Mr Burgess because, he told the inquest, his crew’s ‘Level 1’ training only allowed them to go in the water up to their ankles. Even though they could all swim they waited for ‘specialists’ to arrive to retrieve his body. They had decided Mr Burgess must surely be dead because he had been in the water for ten minutes. Other rescue agencies believe people can survive submerged for much longer than ten minutes – some will still try resuscitation at 90 minutes. When a policeman decided to go in anyway, he was ordered not to. A paramedic was also told not to enter the water because he didn’t have the right ‘protective’ clothing and might be in breach of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
The tragic incident made headlines around the world, held up as a shocking example of ludicrously risk-averse Britain. And it prompted a coroner to demand that fire, police and ambulance services improve training to prevent a repeat.
The incident happened despite a previous reassurance from the Health and Safety Executive that firefighters would not face prosecution if they performed acts of heroism that break rules.
Mr Burgess could have been reached within two minutes of emergency crews arriving at the scene – as proved by our reporter who went into the lake and waded 25ft to the spot where his body had been floating.
Mr Burgess had been feeding swans from a plastic bag that blew into the lake. He went in to retrieve it and while he was in the water he had a fit and fell unconscious. Last week, Coroner David Horsley ruled his death was an accident on the balance of probabilities, but said there was a chance, ‘albeit a slim one’, he could have been saved had the emergency services intervened sooner.