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Hero Lock Keeper Averts Another Tragedy

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Heroic Action From Resident Thames Lock Keeper Averts Another Tragedy

The quick response of a resident lock keeper at Abingdon has been critical to saving lives yet again says GMB.

GMB member, Richard Hawkins, the resident Lock & Weir Keeper at Abingdon employed by the Environment Agency (EA), raced into action at 6.30pm on Friday 29 April to rescue 3 city workers whose boat had capsized.

After pulling the men from the Thames, one of them collapsed, his heart stopped and he was going into cardiac arrest. Mr Hawkins performed CPR until the ambulance arrived who used a defibrillator before taking him to hospital.

Mr Hawkins position as Resident Lock and Weir Keeper at Abingdon has only recently been made permanent. He had been filling the position in a temporary capacity during the period covered by the housing review. GMB reps have worked with waterways management to review vacant resident posts and have found that in all cases it has been essential to retain the resident Lock and Weir Keepers. These sites include Benson, Pinkhill, Abingdon, Cleeve and Whitchurch.

This is not the first time the lock keepers have saved lives and averted tragedy and shows the importance of this role. (See notes to editors for fatalities averted by lock and weir keepers)

In February 2014, Richard Hawkins, again, rescued a boater who had fallen into the Thames just six days after he had rescued a young boy who had slipped into the flood waters and in danger of being swept into the weir.

In March 2014, resident keeper Andy Feak saved a Shiplake College rowing eight from going through the weir by responding in minutes to reduce the force of the water pounding onto the rowers by closing the gates.

In June 2014 the duty lock keeper at Radcot Lock on River Thames near Faringdon in Oxfordshire helped to save the life of a teenage boy who got into difficulty while canoeing with his father near the lock.

Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer, said “A hero in the true sense of the word. What Richard and other lock keepers have performed vindicates GMB’s view that resident lock keepers are essential to maintain safety on the Thames. There is a long history of resident lock keepers responding in minutes day and night to these sorts of incidents. Having a lock keeper on site has saved countless lives and has done so for many years.”

End

Contact: Justin Bowden 07710 631351 or GMB press office on 07970 863411 or 07739 182691

Notes to editors

1 GMB press release dated June 2 2014

Fatality Averted By Radcot Lock Keeper On River Thames On Thursday 29th May As Environment Agency Looks To Make Resident Keeper Posts Redundant

The lock had been unmanned on the previous two days and this would almost certainly have resulted in a fatality if the lock had been unmanned that day says GMB

On Thursday 29th May 2014, the duty lock keeper at Radcot Lock on River Thames near Faringdon in Oxfordshire helped to save the life of a teenage boy who got into difficulty while canoeing with his father near the lock.

The Environment Agency is currently trying to force through plans to make resident lock keeper posts all along the River Thames redundant.

At Radcot, there is a canoe pass that bypasses the lock and weir. On Thursday 29th the two canoeists went along this feature. After paddling through this canoe pass, the boy ventured towards the main weir. The boy then got caught in the "stopper" below the weir and got into extreme difficulty.

Frank Minal, GMB Regional Officer, said “The father called on the boy not to get any closer to the weir. He then screamed at him to not go any further. The boy then got caught in the "stopper" below the weir and got into extreme difficulty. The canoe was in an upright position with the boy stuck in the canoe underwater.

The duty lock keeper heard the father screaming for help and rushed to the scene, with a bystander who happened to be there at the time. A rescue took place using a life-ring from the weir structure and between them they lifted the boy out of the water. He was blue in colour and unconscious but was still breathing.

The bystander, who happened to be a doctor, was able to assess the boy and assist with first aid until the ambulance arrived. The boy’s father, who was a surgeon, had got into the water to get his son out of the canoe and dragged him to the bank. He was exhausted by his efforts and would not have been able to get the boy out of the water without help.

The ambulance took a while to find the location, so the boy was treated for about 40 minutes at the scene before they arrived. He was worked on by the ambulance team for a further 20 minutes before being dispatched to hospital.

The lock had been unmanned on the previous two days and this would almost certainly have resulted in a fatality if the lock had been unmanned that day.

GMB members spoke to two eyewitnesses to the incident over the weekend. They were taking part in a sponsored paddle along the river and it was one of their support crew that was the doctor at the scene. He had been talking to the lock keeper when the incident took place.

The Environment Agency is currently trying to force through plans to make resident lock keeper posts all along the River Thames redundant. Claims by senior managers that removing these key front line staff will not affect the ability to respond to incidents on the river are total nonsense. This is not the only incident in recent months. See notes to editors for details of other incidents.

The plans must be dropped for reasons of safety and for the flood defences.”

2 GMB press release dated March 25 2014

RESIDENT THAMES LOCK KEEPER FACING AXE BY ENVIRONMENT AGENCY AVERTS TRAGEDY AT OXFORDSHIRE WEIR ON MONDAY 24THMARCH

This is the fourth time in two months that the quick response of a resident lock keeper has been critical to save lives says GMB

At approximately 17.30 on Monday 24th March a rowing eight from Shiplake College and three coaching boats got into difficulty above Shiplake weir near Henley upon Thames in Oxfordshire. The strong stream pulled the rowing boat and two of the launches onto the weir, whilst third boat was dragged through the open gates, catapulting the coach into the river below.

A fourth boat raced the few hundred yards to the lock keepers cottage to raise the alarm. Resident keeper Andy Feak was able to respond in minutes, racing to the weir to close the gates and reduce the force of the water pounding on the rowers and their coaches. The speed of his response without doubt prevented the boys being dragged through the weir.

The boys and coaches were lifted from the weir by the emergency services, which were quick to praise Andy for actions and highlight the importance of the speed of his response.

Frank Minal of the GMB who represents lock keepers on the Thames said “The Environment Agency is currently trying to force through plans to make resident lock keeper posts redundant. Senior managers have claimed removing these key front line staff will not affect its ability to respond to incidents on the river. This is despite admitting that the response time to incidents like this will increase from minutes to a goal of two hours.

This is the fourth time in two months that the quick response of a resident lock keeper has been critical. There is overwhelming evidence that having a lock keeper on site saves lives and has done so for years.

If this incident had happened at Chertsey or Sunbury or one of the other locks where the Agency has irresponsibly decided not to have a resident, we would have been faced with a catastrophe.

Last year Andy Feak was recognised with an Environment Agency award for racing from his lock cottage during the night to save a boat and its crew, who were in danger of being pulled through the weir.”

3 GMB press release dated February 17 2014

Resident Lock Keeper Whose Role Is To Go In EA Cuts Rescues Two In Two Separate Incidents On Swollen Thames At Abingdon

Consultation on redundancies on hold but they will press on with redundancies after the floods have receded with a meeting scheduled for Thursday 20th Feb discuss how this delay impacts on the timetable for job losses says GMB.

Richard Hawkins, the resident Lock & Weir Keeper at Abingdon employed by the Environment Agency (EA), raced into action at 7.30am on Saturday morning 15th February to rescue a boater who had fallen into the Thames. Richard then steered the 57' narrow boat, which had come adrift from its mooring by the ferocity of the current, across the river, where he was able to secure the vessel safely. Only six days earlier Richard had rescued a young boy who had slipped into the flood waters and was in danger of being swept into the weir.

The Environment Agency is seeking to end residential lock keeping on the Thames. Currently for residential lock and weir keepers living on the river the response time to localised incidents is around 15 minutes. In contrast an EA feasibility study proposes a target of 2 hours.

Frank Minal, GMB regional officer, said "Richard's actions vindicate the GMB view that resident lock keepers are essential to maintain safety on the Thames. There is a long history of resident lock keepers responding in minutes day and night to these sorts of incidents. This quick response undoubtedly saving lives. These incidents make a mockery of managers at Environment Agency claiming that abolishing resident keepers will not affect safety on the river.

Richard's job as resident keeper at Abingdon Lock will disappear if the Environment Agency is allowed to implement plans to abolish resident lock keepers and replace them with contractors as part of the 10% cut backs. This will result in the response time to incidents increasing from minutes to an EA target of two hours.

Last week the EA put consultation on redundancies on hold. However they will press on with redundancies after the floods have receded. There is a meeting with unions scheduled for Thursday 20th Feb discuss how this delay impacts on the timetable for job losses. This is ludicrous. Have government learned nothing from the current floods.

At the root of the current flooding crisis are successive years of central government cuts that have trimmed maintenance budgets to unsustainable levels.

Facts are stubborn things. In 2009-10 total grants to the Environment Agency were £846.7m. For 2010-11 there were cut to £799.6m, for 2011-12 they were cut to £749.5m, in 2012-13 there were further cuts to £723m. There was a further cut of £14m for this year. This is a reduction of 16% and during this period inflation has increased by 11%. In real terms the grant has been cut by more than a quarter.

That is before the latest 10% hack at the budget for 2014- 15 announced by Osborne last summer.

Government must immediately reverse the ludicrous cut of 1,700 EA jobs. This should be followed by an independent inquiry into what are the realistic funding levels necessary to ensure the EA has both the capital budget to protect the country from flooding and drought and a big enough revenue budget to maintain, service and run these vital defences."

 

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