Firefighters' fears after outboard motor removed from water unit boat

Herts Water Rescue Team

Crews have been asked to paddle or call volunteer organisations for support after the motor was removed. - Credit: @hertsboatrescue/Twitter

Hatfield firefighters have described the removal of an outboard motor from the inflatable boat used by Herts Fire and Rescue’s Water Rescue Team as a kneejerk reaction. 

The power unit was removed by senior management staff when they visited the Hatfield-based unit last week, with firefighters told they must now use paddles or contact volunteer organisations, Herts Boat Rescue and Herts Canoe Lifeguards for support.

It follows the death of a Welsh firefighter during a water training exercise in September 2019.

But local firefighters have cited the recovery of a man’s body from Stanborough Lake earlier this year as the reason why the outboard motor is needed. 

One man, who asked to remain anonymous, told the WHT: “It was only a matter of months ago that the boat was deployed to assist in the search and recovery a man at Stanborough Lakes in Welwyn Garden City, just a couple of miles from Hatfield Fire Station.

“The capability is used and will be needed again in the future. Do we really want to rely on voluntary organisations to fill in the gaps for our blue light emergency service that ALREADY has the capability in place? 

“There is no cost saving motivation in removing this piece of potentially vital, though admittedly infrequently used equipment, from Hertfordshire's water incident response capability.

Herts Water Rescue Team

The Herts Water Rescue Team on a training exercise last month. - Credit: @hertsboatrescue/Twitter

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“Hatfield personnel are already trained for boat use, with some trained to train others on the boat usage and procedures. They are also already trained in maintaining the outboard motor and ancillary equipment on-station - something they do on a weekly basis. 

“It is simply a knee-jerk reaction, in essence removing a significant water rescue capability for the whole of Hertfordshire, and placing the Hatfield personnel in unnecessary danger by forcing them to hand row the boat in potentially spate weather conditions. 

“The large water rescue boat at Hatfield was already removed from service over a year ago without reason or cost saving, and now this move has been replicated with this smaller capability.” 

A spokesman from Hertfordshire County Council – which runs the fire and rescue service – cited the death of Welsh firefighter Josh Gardener, who died after two boats collided in the Cleddau Estuary in Pembrokeshire in September 2019, as part of the reason for the removal of the outboard motor. 

“Following a fatal accident in September 2019, where a firefighter from Mid and West Wales FRS died during a water training exercise, Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has reviewed its own water rescue capabilities to make sure we take on board the lessons identified in the Marine Accident Investigation Branch report.  

“This has included reviewing whether we need to operate powered boats at all.”

HCC admitted that while they understand the disappointment expressed by firefighters, their operational data from the past six years has revealed there is little need to operate a motorised boat, having only been used twice over that period. 

“We understand that some firefighters will be disappointed by the decision to remove the outboard motor from the water rescue unit, however our priority is to keep people safe,” the spokesperson continued.  

“We don’t want to put our firefighters, or the public, at risk by training with potentially hazardous equipment that we don’t actually need for rescue operations. 

“After reviewing the last six years of operational data, and water risk assessments for the county, we have concluded that there is no need for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service to operate powered boats.  

“None of the water risk assessments for the county have identified the need for a motorised boat, and powered boats have only been used operationally twice in the last six years, and neither of those incidents was wholly reliant on an outboard motor. 

“In the unlikely event that Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service should need additional resources in the future, there are existing arrangements with two volunteer organisations, Herts Boat Rescue and Herts Canoe Lifeguards who can provide support on request.”

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