THE INSTALLATION of a piece of new life saving equipment at Fatfield riverside has been backed by the dad of a Washington man who drowned there 17 months ago.

Twenty two-year-old Ross Irwin was pulled from the River Wear on Christmas Eve 2016 following what his dad Dave believes was a tragic accident.

Ross, who worked at the Child Benefit Centre at Waterview Park, Washington, had been on a night out after work on December 23 and was last seen telling friends he was going to get a taxi to Sunderland.

Dad Dave believes the popular 22-year-old fell into the water after losing his footing on the riverbank where he had gone to spend a penny. His body was found about 100 yards down river.

Now Dave, who is a crew manager at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, has backed the installation by Sunderland City Council of a potentially life-saving throw line board on the riverside opposite the Biddick Inn at Fatfield which is dedicated to his son.

Unlike traditional life buoys, the throwline is secured in a lockbox attached to the board which can be opened with a code available by dialling 999 and speaking to the police or fire service, which means it should be less prone to theft and vandalism.

Councillor John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, said: “Water safety is a priority for us and Sunderland has had an active Water Safety Partnership since 2015 which works to raise awareness of the dangers of swimming in open water with an annual water safety programme.

“So we’re delighted to be trialling this new piece of potentially lifesaving equipment as an addition to the rescue equipment we already have along the riverside and at the coast and to have the backing of Ross’s dad, Dave. No parent should ever have to go through what he and his family have gone through and he’s shown tremendous courage in speaking out about this tragedy in order to help others.

“I understand a throwline has already successfully been used by a member of the public to save the life of a woman who fell into the river in Leeds city centre in March. It gave her something to cling on to as well as buying her valuable extra time until firefighters could get there to rescue her and we hope it could help save lives here too.

“This is about raising the awareness of how dangerous open water can be.  Sadly Ross is not the only person to have died on this stretch of river. We had two schoolgirls who tragically lost their lives here in 2013 and another sad death in December 2014 so this additional piece of lifesaving equipment is something that’s definitely worth exploring. I’d also urge people to respect the water safety equipment we have along the riverbank because it’s there to save lives.”

Ross’s dad, Dave added: “This is very emotional for all of the family to see this throw line board in memory of Ross. He was so selfless and caring and was always first in the queue to help his family and friends if they needed help.

“Ross would not of wanted us to just sit back and do nothing about his tragedy, I’m sure he would be very proud of the what we have achieved over the past 12 month in water safety.

“I owe a massive thank you to Firefighter Tommy Richardson who has been relentless in securing this board’s location. Tommy also raised funds alongside Beccy Ramsey, who also lost her son to drowning, for this throw line board and was adamant he wanted the board to be located near to where Ross’s body was found. I also want to thank Councillor Tony Taylor who managed to fund the throw line board through Washington East Community Chest, which means the funds raised by Tommy and Beccy can now go to erect another throw line board in a different location. Let’s hope this throw line board is the first of many to be erected in the Tyne and Wear area”.

The throwline board has been funded by Washington East councillors using community chest funding.

Councillor Tony Taylor, said: “As a Washington councillor I know only too well the tragic toll Ross’s death and those of the two schoolgirls have had on their families, friends and the wider community here. So I’m really pleased to have been able to work with my fellow councillors, Fiona Miller and David Snowdon to find the funding for this to go ahead.”

Sunderland’s annual water safety programme has seen:

• Water safety lessons delivered to more than 150,000 children in primary schools in Sunderland since 1994. The RNLI also deliver practical water safety sessions with their Hit the Surf programme.

• A dvd put together with the help of two schoolgirls who tragically died at Fatfield warning young people of the dangers of open water. This was well received and viewed by over 2k people on Youtube

• Competitions challenging schools across the city to come up with a hard-hitting advert to educate people about the risks around water.

• Lifeguards and extensive water safety signage at three beaches including Roker, 7 days a week from the end of May to mid September, with patrols of up to 9 lifeguards on duty from 10.00am – 6.00pm each day.

• A boat patrolling the River Wear from the river mouth to Fatfield from Easter to September every weekend, school holidays and public holidays, from 11am to 7pm, giving safety advice and guidance to water users including those with inflatables.

The Water Safety Partnership is led by Sunderland City Council and its members include the RNLI, the RLSS, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Northumbria Police, Everyone Active.