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Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service works with heartbroken parents in new water safety campaign to prevent accidental drownings in open water

The parents of a teenager who died in the River Trent have joined Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service to share their heartbreaking story as part of a new campaign to prevent accidental drownings in open water.

Thandolwethu Ndlovu, otherwise known as Thando, was near Swarkestone Bridge with friends when he entered the water and got into difficulty on 20 July 2021.

His body was sadly recovered the next day following an extensive search and rescue effort by emergency services. It was just two days after his 15th birthday.

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service (DFRS) has now partnered with Jabulani and Nombulelo Ndlovu on a video titled ‘Thando’s Story’ to warn school children about the dangers of jumping or swimming in open water.

It is being released today ahead of the school holidays and forecasted warm weather, a time when an increasing number of young people put themselves at risk of drowning.

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service’s Group Manager, David Diggins who is also the Chair of the Derbyshire Water Safety Partnership, said: “I would like to extend my thanks to Mr and Mrs Ndlovu for allowing us to share Thando’s story and for choosing to use his legacy to prevent other families from experiencing the same heartache.  

“Open water may look safe and inviting especially on a hot day, but it can be very dangerous due to very cold water temperatures, hidden currents, fast flowing water, hidden rocks, rubbish or debris, and water pollution that could make you extremely ill.

“As the school holiday approaches and the weather gets warmer, our advice is simple. Never be tempted to jump into or swim in any open water to cool off.”

In the last five years (April 2017 to March 2022), Derbyshire firefighters have been called to 106 water rescue incidents – 15 of which involved young people under the age of 17.

And of the total number of water incidents, 16 have been fatal with males accounting for the majority (14) of the deceased.

Group Manager Diggins went onto say: “Tragically, in the case of Thando, his was the second water related death in Derbyshire in a matter of days. But this is not solely an issue confined to just 2021.

“Year on year we see people drown by underestimating the risks associated with open water.

“Parents, guardians and carers, please watch Thando’s story and talk to your children about the dangers of playing in or close to any open water.

“Highlighting the dangers and making sure everyone is aware can help us prevent these needless deaths.”

By following our simple advice everyone can stay safe when they are around open water. Our advice is:

  • Never enter the water – no matter how inviting it may look!
  • Avoid walking on routes near water if you have been drinking alcohol.
  • Don’t dive or jump into open water, this can cause potentially fatal cold water shock even on the warmest day. You also don’t know what’s below the surface of the water – rocks or other hidden debris can lead to serious or fatal injuries.
  • Always supervise children around water - drowning can happen fast and silently.
  • If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, don’t panic, extend your arms and legs out and float on your back until the effect of cold water shock passes.
  • Never enter the water to try and rescue someone or an animal, call 999 and ask for the Fire Service.

You can view Thando's Story here.

Thando Ndlovu, 15, who drowned in the River Trent in July 2021