Fire crews rescue man from River Wensum in Norwich

An urgent plea has today been issued to the public to be aware of the dangers of Norwich's waterways after a man was pulled from the River Wensum in a dramatic night-time rescue.

Firefighters from Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service prepared their surface rescue boat after being alerted by police that a man was in difficulty after falling into the river close to the Novi Sad bridge by the city's Riverside.

The man, who was being held onto by a friend, was plucked from the icy water by the crew within minutes of their arrival at the scene at Wherry Road just after 4am yesterday.

An East of England Ambulance spokesman said the man, who has not been named but is thought to be about 25, was conscious and breathing and was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Roy Harold, assistant chief officer of the Rescue Service, who commended the crews involved for helping to save the man's life, said the city's rivers should be enjoyed – but also respected.

He said: 'There's a genuine safety message here. We ask people to take care. Riverside is a very nice area to have a night out. It's a lovely part of the city. But there's a safety concern about people and water.

'Some people only experience swimming or being in water in a swimming pool or on holiday, and they get a misleading view of just how cold and unpleasant the water is, particularly at this time of year.

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'UK waters at this time of year are really challenging and I would ask people to really take care at the water's edge.'

A fire crew from Norwich, which towed the rescue boat to the scene on a trailer, were accompanied by a crew from Sprowston and the service's technical rescue unit from Norwich and the heavy rescue pump also attended.

Although the rescue boat was not actually used, as it was more appropriate to use a throw line, crew manager Gary Davison, who was part of the rescue team at the scene, explained that it only takes two minutes to get the boat assembled and ready for use.

'It is essential to have this bit of kit in the city,' he said.

Mr Harold added that the team's swift response helped ensure the man survived his ordeal.

He said: 'Undoubtedly he could have lost his life. The crews got to the scene within five minutes and were able to carry out a successful rescue.'

As well as Mr Davison, other crew manager Matt Postle and firefighters Andrew Nesbitt-Clarke and Chris Watering also attended the scene.

Mr Nesbitt-Clarke said: 'He was hanging on to the chains on the edge, and was in quite a weak state. He had been in the water quite a while.

'He couldn't really talk as he was shivering and stuttering. As soon as he was out we put him in the care of the paramedics.'

Mr Davison added: 'It is our job, but you do get some satisfaction from saving someone from something that could have been quite serious.

'The water rescue that we do is something we pride ourselves on in Norwich.'

The Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service has been part of a national project to improve water safety since 2007 when a tidal surge battered the region.

At the end of last year the service, which currently has rescue boats in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and a larger boat at Wymondham, received a cash boost to help it extend its water rescue capability.

A Defra grant of �250,000 was matched by Norfolk County Council to give them �500,000 to help purchase improved water rescue equipment.

The fire service is hoping to add a further boat in Thetford to ensure the region is as well-equipped as possible to deal with any potential emergency.

Over the past few years the emergency services together with the council and other agencies have worked hard to improve Norwich's river safety following a string of tragedies.

In April 2001 the city's pioneering SOS Bus was launched following the Evening News's Home Safe and Sound campaign prompted by the river deaths of Nick Green, 16, and James Toms, 21, following nights out in the city.

In February 2003, University of East Anglia student Paul Brennan, 26, died after falling into the river following a night out on Riverside.

In 2005, the river claimed two lives with the body of Big Issue seller Christopher Teggs, 34, being pulled out of the water near the Nelson Hotel in July that year and Robert Walton, 18, drowning after falling in at Riverside following a night out in September.

In March 2006, Rose Ryan, 68, was found dead near Whitefriars Bridge after going missing from St James' House sheltered accommodation and in February 2008 the body of 18-year-old Gary Ling was discovered floating in the River Yare near Trowse. He had gone missing following a night out in the city with friends in January 2008.

Last September, Nathan Goffin and Ellen Pennings, from Norwich-based Broadland Guarding Services, received commendations from the company after they helped to save Stuart Purvis, from Wymondham, who fell into the River Wensum near Bishop's Bridge, in July last year.

Do you know the man who was rescued? Call Evening News reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email