MORE than 20 people have died in York’s rivers over the past five years - with a dramatic shift in the average age of casualties from young people to older victims, often suffering from mental health problems.

Now York firefighters are to be given special additional training which will enable them to enter the water safely and carry out ‘tethered swims’ to help in rescue efforts.

The latest casualty figures were revealed in a presentation by fire chiefs to a public accountability meeting yesterday of the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.

They said York currently had the highest water risk in the county, with 21 fatalities in the past five years in the Ouse and Foss.

The incident profile in York had changed over the years, from an initial preponderance of young people aged 18-25, who mainly entered the water between 10pm and 3am on weekends, to people from an older age group, with more complex issues often associated with mental health problems.

The officers said that in York, the average age of fatalities in the Foss and the Ouse in 2014 was 26, and in 2016 it had fallen to just 19.

But in 2017, the average age had risen to 42, by 2019 it was 50 and by 2020 and 2021, it had jumped to 68.

They stressed that accurate data was difficult to collate, due to the number of agencies involved and the different recording systems they used, and the figures were based on York Fire Station data for the rivers and might not include all incidents.

They said firefighters in York had a powerboat but were not trained to physically enter the water, unlike in Selby, where crews had a power boat and were trained and could enter the water to carry out rescues.

However, due to the level of incidents in York, an upgrading of its crews’ capability would seem justified.

“Crews across York will receive an uplift in training to allow them to carry out a tethered swim,” they said.

“This will improve the rescue capability for incidents in the Foss.”

They said five fire stations were receiving upgrades to their dry suits and Personal Floatation Devices, and the service’s boat in York had had a propeller guard and improved lighting fitted.

They said the York Water Safety Forum had also implemented a number of initiatives to make the rivers safer:

l Escape ladders have been painted orange so they could be clearly seen from the water

l Signage has been installed giving helpline numbers for the Samaritans at hotspots

l RoSPA - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - has been commissioned to conduct a new safety survey

l Links with the universities have improved safety messaging to students through student unions, fresher weeks and information days.

They added that crews from across the county were proactively involved in water safety education and engagement, including youth education, social media, talks and demonstrations, patrols at local risk sites during periods of high traffic, the installation of equipment and RNLI throwline training to riverside establishments.