A father and a firefighter is calling an end to his 24-year career keeping communities safe – and is leaving behind a legacy of life-saving in memory of his son.
Dave Irwin, 50 of Washington, retires from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) having served most recently as a Crew Manager with Red Watch at Birtley Community Fire Station.
His career as a firefighter began in 2000 and saw him respond to countless fires, road traffic accidents and rescues over the last two-and-a-half decades.
But it was a devastating family bereavement over seven-years ago, that has seen Dave tirelessly supporting water safety campaigns in recent years.
On December 23rd, 2016, he tragically lost his beloved son Ross, when he drowned in the River Wear at Fatfield, Washington, following a night out with friends.
It was believed that the 22-year-old lost his footing on the water’s edge along the river bank – after telling friends he was going to get a taxi home.
As part of Dave’s passionate campaigning he also helped to oversee the installation of vital lifesaving throwline equipment along the stretch of the River Wear where Ross lost his life.
This included Dave, alongside a number of amazing volunteers, tackling a sponsored walk up England’s tallest mountain.
The fundraiser at Scafell Pike in the Lake District, raised over £3,000 for the purchase of essential water safety equipment, which was match-funded by Sunderland City Council.
“It feels quite surreal at the moment knowing that I’m leaving a role that has played such a big part in my life,” said Dave.
“It has been thoroughly enjoyable serving the people of Tyne and Wear, and I can honestly say that I’ve made some life-long friendships along the way.
“But it has been the support from fellow firefighters towards myself and my family after Ross’s death that I will never forget as they have been unbelievable.”
Firefighting has always been in Dave’s blood as before joining TWFRS he spent six-years as a firefighter in the Royal Air Force at RAF Scampton, and three-years at Newcastle Airport.
During his two decades with the Service, Dave worked at Birtley, Rainton Bridge and Washington Community Fire Stations alongside a spell at the Brigade’s Training Centre.
But Dave wants his stand out legacy to be the water safety campaigning that he helped to champion across the region.
He said: “I’m extremely proud of what we’ve managed to achieve because it’s really important for people to learn about the dangers of cold water shock.
“As what we found out to our sorrow, is that most of the recent drownings in regional waterways could’ve been prevented. Especially if those individuals had the knowledge about the deadly combination of alcohol consumption and the freezing North East waters.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but there’s never a day goes by when I don’t ask myself what if?
“What if Ross hadn’t of slipped and ended up in the water? But as I don’t have magic wand I can’t turn back time.
“But what I do have is the opportunity to help educate and warn people of all ages about the dangers of the water, and the impact it can have on so many lives, not just the victims themselves but also the friends and family they are leaving behind.”
Dave said he’ll still be supporting regional and national awareness events such as “Don’t Drink and Drown” organised by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS), and other campaigns delivered by the Fire Service and the RNLI.
Dale Howey, Head of Learning & Development, said: “When a firefighter retires, we like to look back and celebrate their achievements, and in Dave’s case, he is leaving us with a lasting legacy that will continue to save lives for years to come.
“Not only through the training that he delivered to fellow firefighters. The incidents he attended as an operational firefighter. The friend he has been to myself and so many other people in the Service. But also the vital water safety campaigning that he championed in memory of his son, Ross.
“We wish Dave all the best for his retirement and the next chapter in his life.”