Floods of 2007: A catalyst for change

Michael Barnett, who died when he became stuck in a storm drain in 2007
Michael Barnett, who died when he became stuck in a storm drain in 2007
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THE floods of 2007, which saw the tragic death of Michael Barnett, 28, trapped in a flood drain in Hull, were a gamechanger for the emergency services.

An inquest into his death concluded there was “a gap nationally in the provision of rescue services” with none of the emergency services having an underwater rescue capability.

Later Sir Michael Pitt’s report flagged up concerns about lack of resources and training. Deputy chief fire officer Chris Blacksell, of Humberside Fire and Rescue, who helped rescue people in Hull, said: “I think we had a couple of dry suits on some rescue units, but no real personal protective equipment for firefighters working in that level of water.”

Until 2007 firefighters were used to pumping water from homes, but not mass rescues. Several floods on, including tidal surges in 2013 and this January, floods have “almost become normal business.” In January crews were brought from outside the area ahead of the surge, which turned out to be less serious than predicted. “We’d rather err on the side of caution,” said Mr Blacksell.

Now every fire engine has access to dry suits and life jackets. Large rescue boats are available as well as inflatables and 10 powered flood rafts which can take up to 15 people. “In terms of equipment it is completely transformed. All firefighters are trained to deal with rescues in moving water and some of the specialist stations in swift water rescues,” he added.

Mr Barnett’s father Michael Barnett Snr will lay flowers at the drain in Astral Close, Hessle, this weekend. He spoke poignantly of his son in a recent interview “who would have got married or had kids”: “He said ‘I’ll look after you dad in your old age and I think I couldn’t even look after him when he was 28. It’s hard to think that some good has come out of it, but it has. Kids can’t get locked in there (the drain) now.”

Mr Barnett agreed the authorities had made improvements. But he added: “We won’t know till another episode happens - lets hope they have got on top of it.”