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HART & Henfield Firefighters in dramatic river rescue

Local lifesaving responders HART (Henfield Area Response Team) and Henfield Firefighters were involved in a dramatic rescue associated with a near-drowning incident on the River Adur on 10 June. 

Local knowledge, twinned with the off-road capabilities of the HART Land Rover, proved invaluable in the saving of a young man’s life.

HART responder Sandra Parsons was on call that Saturday afternoon at 6pm when a ‘Category A – R1’ text came through on her phone. The ambulance service grade calls to first responders according to their perceived severity – and an R1 is the most serious. HART often try to respond in pairs, especially to life-endangered calls, so Sandra collected her colleague Kas Fletcher en-route to the response.

The incident was described as a ‘potential river drowning’, and the location noted as Hillside, Small Dole. Saving vital minutes, Sandra and Kas realised the location was incorrect and made their way the opposite side of the road towards the River Adur. First on the scene they found the person who had called 999. This young man’s friend had apparently been swept away in the tidal river; it had been some 45 minutes since his friend had entered the water and he had been unable to drag him out against the flow of the current and the steep, muddy bank.

Sandra and Kas were closely followed by Henfield Fire Brigade and an ambulance, then police and a specialist rapid water rescue team. Andy Tullett and his colleague Hugo Healy, Firefighters from Henfield, joined Sandra and Kas as they searched the river downstream; Andy and Hugo scouring from one bank while Sandra, Kas and the rapid water rescue team on the far bank. Firefighters Jim Mundy and Darren Ware checked the northern river. Sandra said; “It soon became apparent that the flow of the tidal river was very strong and we ran downstream frantically searching for the young man. Luckily both Kas and I are keen runners, in fact Kas had run 12 miles with the Henfield Joggers just that morning. I’m afraid I was only wearing summer sandals so I was hardly prepared for a four-mile run, but when a shout happens we tend to drop everything and just go!”

Two fire engines and a Coastguard team were waiting at Kings Barn Lane, Steyning. At this point, the young man had been in the water for over two hours, they braced themselves for the possibility of being met with a body to recover rather than rescue.

As they rounded the corner almost at Upper Beeding, Andy and Hugo saw a figure in the river. After assisting him from the water they discovered that against all odds the young man was indeed alive, albeit with very low blood pressure, suffering from cold, confusion and water in his lungs.

Kas said; “The utter relief to discover that the young man was still alive was incredible. We had begun to fear the worst, knowing the length of time he’d been in the water. We are really pleased that we could get to the scene quickly and be part of the all-Henfield team of rescuers. It shows how important the 4-wheel drive capabilities of the HART vehicle are, it’s thanks to local people’s ongoing support that we can help save lives.”

Sandra and Kas ended up exhausted, scratched and stung, but overwhelmingly relieved that they had not been faced with a tragic end to their story. We believe the young man got into difficulties as he attempted to cross the river. Thanks to the team of retained Fire-fighters at Henfield Fire Station and two HART responders, a young man’s life was saved. We are very proud and grateful to have HART and a great team of retained Firefighters in Henfield – it’s a real reminder of the value of local knowledge.

Emma Osman