Warning over flood water swimming risk

A senior fire officer who has seen a rise in ‘disaster tourism’ has issued a stark warning about the dangers of swimming in flood waters.

Following flash floods in the wake of torrential weather at the weekend, Cork City Fire Brigade’s assistant chief fire officer, David Spillett, said that people who arrive in flood-stricken areas to swim or kayak in the filthy water should be aware of the potentially deadly hazards.

“Water-borne illnesses have ended the careers of firefighters,” he said.

“We consider flooding as haz-mat [hazardous materials] and public health events. The amount of contaminants in flood water is huge, particularly biological contaminants, as the flood waters come up through sewers and gullies.”

But, despite the dangers, he said, people still insist in coming into urban areas after major flood events to swim, wade, or kayak in the flood waters.

Musician Seán McKeon, who became a YouTube hit after swimming along a flooded Oliver Plunkett St in a shark suit earlier this year, said he knows of at least three people who became seriously ill afterwards.

“I probably wouldn’t do it again,” Mr McKeon said yesterday.

“Two or three people I know who swam in the water got very sick — vomiting and diarrhoea — for three or four days. One of the guys got Hepatitis A and had to go to hospital for an injection.

“I knew the flood water was manky so I kept my head out of it. I was conscious of the dangers.

“But the fellas who got sick had put their heads under the water.

“I did it for a bit of a laugh, but I probably wouldn’t do it again.”

Mr Spillett, who was addressing a series of flood prevention workshops in Cork, showed slides of a man paddling a surf board in flood waters, and referred to Mr McKeon’s YouTube clip.

He said he cannot understand why people insist on swimming or playing in flood waters.

He said firefighters are deployed in flood events wearing fully-enclosed dry suits and steel reinforced shoes and with flotation devices, and they undergo a full decontamination process afterwards.

“We do that for a reason. We have learned over the years,” he said.

He also revealed how the city fire service is informally monitoring social media platforms such as Twitter during major flood events to identify problem areas in the hope that it could help respond quickly in the event of an emergency.


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