Cold water shock kills – that’s the simple yet hard-hitting message a new campaign aims to get across to County Durham teenagers this summer.
As groups of friends make for the county’s rivers, lakes, reservoirs and quarries over the coming months focused only on enjoying themselves, many will be unaware of the dangers posed by the temperature of the water before they enter.
Yet cold water shock, the body’s short term involuntary response to being suddenly immersed in cold water, can be fatal.
The Safe Durham Partnership (SDP), supported by the family of County Durham cold water shock victim Cameron Gosling, has launched ‘Dying to be Cool’ – a campaign which will seek to get this message across
The partnership, made up of Durham County Council, Durham Constabulary and Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service and other partners, is targeting ten to sixteen year olds and will be rolling out a poster campaign through schools and social media.
Representatives from the partnership will also visit schools to deliver assemblies on the dangers of cold water shock.
They will be showing pupils a video shot at the spot where Cameron died, featuring some of his friends who were with him at the time and his mum Fiona.
Fourteen year old Cameron, a pupil at Parkside Academy in Willington, went to the River Wear near Bishop Auckland with friends on a sunny day in July 2015.
Without acclimatising himself, he jumped into the water, got into difficulties and died.
Fiona, who is pushing for water safety to be added to the national curriculum under the hashtag CampaigningforCam, said: “Cameron’s friends had paddled in the water before swimming but he jumped straight in and his body went into shock as a result of the sudden change in temperature.
“Had he known of the dangers of cold water shock, we might not have lost a loving son and friend.
“We want to educate young people on this little known killer and fully support what Dying to be Cool is trying to achieve.
“We don’t want other people to have the hole in their lives that Cameron has left in ours.”
One of Cameron’s best friends, thirteen year old Matty Wraith, was part of the group which went into the river, and tried to save him.
He said: “I jumped in after him. I was with him and then we went under a few times and then he just went.
“I managed to grab onto a log and tried looking for him but he did not come back up.
“You miss him loads, you just want him to be there.”
Laura Cowan, 14, was also at the river with Cameron.
“He is still with us. You can still feel a part of him here, no matter where you are, what you are doing.
“I did not really know about cold water shock until it happened.
“Now Cameron’s gone, I have come to think about it more. I know all the dangers now and I feel safe to know that I know.”
Sudden immersion in cold water can cause blood vessels in the skin to close which makes it harder for blood to flood around the body.
The heart then has to work harder and blood pressure increases.
“At the same time there is a “gasp” response which can result in water being breathed rather than air.
The breathing rate also changes dramatically – it can increase by as much as tenfold. All these responses contribute to a feeling of panic.
One effect of cold water shock can be cardiac arrest, while death can occur.
Rachael Shimmin, who is chair of the SDP and corporate director of children and adults services at the county council, said: “We want young people to enjoy the outdoors this summer but believe it is vital that they go near water fully aware of the risks of cold water shock.
“Through Dying to be Cool our aim is to educate as many teenagers as possible about what can happen when they go into cold water without acclimatising themselves.”
Cllr Joy Allen, the county council’s portfolio holder for safer communities, said: “We cannot begin to imagine what Cameron’s family and friends have gone through but we are extremely grateful to them for supporting our campaign that highlights the hidden dangers and helping us prevent unnecessary loss of treasured lives.
“If what we are doing stops just one young boy or girl getting into difficulty it will have been worthwhile.”
More information on the new campaign can be found at www.durham.gov.uk/dyingtobecool