Newcastle Quayside to stage ‘Don’t Drink and Drown’ awareness event

Crew Manager Dave Irwin of Tyne & Wear FRS - holding a throw bag at Fatfield along the River Wear.

A heartbroken firefighter has called on revellers to be safe near the water this winter – five years after his son died in the water following a night out.

The season of Christmas and New Year are traditionally recognised as being a popular time for people to get together for office parties, community celebrations and for family gatherings of course respecting all of the government’s COVID-19 guidelines.

But sometimes the merriment can turn to tragedy, if revellers take their festivities to the local river or waterway, or even if they accidently slip on the icy pathway on the cold walk home.

On Sunday December 5th, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) will be taking part in a partnership event being staged on the Newcastle Quayside to mark the start of the Royal Life Saving Society UK’s (RLSS UK) #DontDrinkandDrown campaign 6-12th December.

A special stall will form part of Newcastle’s Sunday market and will be positioned outside of The Customs House (39 Quayside) What3Words location details.

The event sees TWFRS joining forces with RLSS UK, Newcastle City Council Flood Management & Resilience Planning team and Tyneside and Northumberland Mind.

The intention of the event is to hand out vital water safety advice and awareness messages to passing members of the public, as well as, those people enjoying a festive tipple in the local bars along the Quayside.

Don’t Drink and Drown is the Royal Life Saving Society UK’s national campaign that encourages smart decision making whilst intoxicated around water. It particularly targets individuals to be responsible for their friends if they have had too much to drink.

On average 73 people lose their lives each year through a substance-related drowning. For context, this is over 20% of the annual accidental drowning fatalities.

One person who has kindly volunteered to chat with revellers and passers-by is Dave Irwin, a serving Firefighter with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and dad to son, Ross.

Dave tragically lost his beloved son when he drowned in the River Wear in Fatfield, Washington, following a night out with friends on December 23rd in 2016, aged just 22-years old.

“There’s not a minute goes by when I don’t ask myself, what if?” says Dave.

Dave, aged 48, works as a Crew Manager at Birtley Community Fire Station. It was believed Ross lost his footing on the water’s edge along the river bank at Bonemill Lane – after telling friends he was going to get a taxi home.

Since Ross’s death Dave and his family have become passionate water safety campaigners.  Even managing to help install lifesaving ‘throw-line’ equipment along sections of the River Wear.

Dave talks about why it’s important to share his knowledge and life experiences with others during Sunday’s #DontDrinkandDrown event.

Dave added: “I know that nothing we can do will ever bring Ross back to us after that fateful night. But if we manage to help just one person with our water safety advice and save their family heartache this Christmas then it will be a worthwhile campaign.

“We miss Ross terribly, and it was a tragic accident that cut short his beautiful life nearly five years ago.  If people are able to remember one vital message this festive season it would be please avoid all rivers, lakes and waterways after your night out.

“Consuming alcohol can be fun at the time but unfortunately it can cloud your judgement and in some cases may end in tragedy. Please be careful and extra vigilant on your journey to and from your festivities.”

A photograph of Dave and Ross Irwin

Additional partnership Quotes :

RLSS UK’s Charity Director, Lee Heard, commented “It is great to see a unified approach with TWFRS, Newcastle City Council, Tyneside and Northumberland Mind and RLSS UK for our Don’t Drink and Drown campaign this year. Christmas and New Year will undoubtedly see many people out in the city centre celebrating during the festive period, and we are encouraging everyone to ‘Be a Mate’ and ensure that their friends and family get home safely, away from water. Drowning is a significant issue all year-round and one which needs caution this Christmas. We urge everyone to be mindful and plan a safe route home away from water.”

Newcastle City Council – Cllr Clare Penny-Evans, Newcastle City Council cabinet member for Climate Change and Public Safety, said: “The Don’t Drink and Drown campaign is all about educating people to be sensible near water.

“The dangers around water are very real, and sadly the risks are increased when people have had a drink as their inhibitions are loosened. This is especially the case as people prepare to celebrate with relatives, friends and colleagues in the run up to Christmas.

“We’re really pleased to be joining Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Royal Life Saving Society and Tyneside and Northumberland Mind for this important campaign on Newcastle’s Quayside – one of the most picturesque beauty spots of our city but somewhere there are genuine dangers as people enjoy themselves close to the River Tyne.”

Tyneside and Northumberland Mind will be discussing how best the charity can help promote positive mental health, and the various support services they can offer people this Christmas and throughout the year.

Alex Wilson, CEO, Tyneside and Northumberland Mind, said:

“As a local mental health charity we urge people, especially at this time of year when many people may be struggling or drinking that little bit more than usual, to be extra cautious and even more vigilant. As we head into the festive season, it is anticipated that many people will increase their alcohol intake, but doing this will have a negative impact on their well-being. Heavy drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain that regulate your mental health so while a drink may relax us at first, it’s important to know that overconsumption of alcohol can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety in the long run.

“We stand united with TWFRS, Newcastle City Council, and RLSS UK for the Don’t Drink and Drown campaign this year and we encourage people to plan their route home and to look out for each other.”

Also present to hand out some crucial advice will be Nick Pope, father of Charlie Pope – who sadly lost his life in March 2018 – when he drowned in a Manchester canal.

On Sunday December 5th, between 10am and 3pm, the various teams will be handing out advice, leaflets, beermats, wristbands and t-shirts along the Newcastle Quayside.

Please come over to show your support and say a festive hello to our officers.  They will be accompanied by two Fire Service Outreach Support and Operational & Resilience vehicles.

For further information about RLSS UK’s #DontDrinkandDrown campaign please visit