Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) will be visiting local schools and businesses in the Yalding area this week to raise awareness of the dangers of swimming in the weir.
The area close to Teapot Island and The Lees attracts many visitors in the summer months and families are often found paddling in the shallow river water between the sluice gates and the bridge, ignoring the ‘danger’, ‘keep out’ and ‘no swimming’ signs.
In recent years, there have been several serious ‘near misses’, where people have been close to drowning and have needed to be rescued.
Swimming in any river is extremely dangerous as there may be strong currents and the water can very cold, even on a warm day, but the area of the weir pool is especially hazardous due to the automatic sluice gates, which control water levels along the river. These gates can open at any time, without warning to release water from upstream, turning a shallow pool into a dangerous torrent.
Anyone in the water can find themselves quickly out of their depth and can soon get into difficulty. There is a strong risk of them getting washed under the bridge into the main part of the River Medway, into very deep water, with even stronger currents and hidden dangers. This area has steep banks, making it difficult for anyone to get out.
KFRS’s community safety team will be distributing family-focussed safety advice to schools in the area and visiting local businesses to encourage them to help raise awareness of the risks.
The activity, which coincides with the national Chief Fire Officers’ Association’s (CFOA) and National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) drowning prevention and water safety week (24-30 April), is part of the coordinated efforts by a newly formed Yalding Water Safety Group.
The group is made up of KFRS, the Environment Agency (EA), Yalding Parish Council, the local Kent Police PCSO and Kent County Council community wardens.
To help prevent people accessing the water the EA has recently installed a new security gate by the weir pool and fitted additional rows of handrail on existing fencing to fill in where there are gaps.
Yalding Parish Council is also in the process of erecting a fence, gates and signage at the top of the slipway on the Lees car park to make people more aware of the danger of entering the weir pool and to hopefully prevent small children running off on their own.
KFRS community safety delivery manager Rob Groombridge said: “Please make sure you and your family stay safe from this danger by keeping out of the water and the weir pool. Make sure your visitors know about the dangers too!”
He added "Ahead of the warmer months, take time to familiarise yourself with further water safety advice."