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East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service logo

East Sussex Fire Chief appointed Chair of National Water Safety Forum

Date : 24 June 2021

CFO Whittaker.jpg

The National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), a network of more than 50 organisations, who work together in order to reduce water-related deaths and associated harm in the UK, has appointed a senior Sussex fire officer to be their new chair. 

Following a harrowing personal experience, NSWF’s new chair, Dawn Whittaker, Chief Fire Officer and CEO of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, has a deep commitment to seek a reduction in the number of accidental drownings and water-related incidents in the UK. 

At the age of 16, Dawn was rescued by friends from drowning in a river in Mid-Wales. Despite being a strong swimmer , and being familiar with the location, Dawn got into difficulty after her foot got caught in underwater branches.

Respect The Water

Dawn Whittaker, Chair of the National Water Safety Forum, said “On that day, I have never forgotten how lucky I was to be with people who knew what to do when someone is in danger in the water. As I grew up I discovered that sadly, not everyone is so fortunate and I decided I wanted to get more involved in helping save lives. We have a lot to do - in 2020, there were 254 fatal accidental drownings in the UK.

I know from my service as a fire officer that prevention is always better than a cure. This ethos also underpins my advocacy for water safety and will continue to guide the work of the National Water Safety Forum as we seek greater collaboration to achieve our shared goal: safer inland and coastal waters.

To that end, this summer, as many people enjoy domestic holidays, members of the National Water Safety Forum will be speaking with one voice and urging the public to ‘Respect the Water’. The #RespectTheWater campaign aims to provide life-saving advice for those in danger in, on, or close to the water. ”

Dawn has been part of the NWSF coordinating group since 2013 where she also represented the National Fire Chief’s Council. Dawn was involved in the group that helped develop the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy and I was also previously Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Royal Lifesaving Society (RLSS).

National Water Safety Forum

The NWSF was established in 2004 following a Government review into water safety, It sought to bring together a number of pre-existing national groups and organisations such as Swim England, Royal Life Saving Society UK and Maritime & Coastguard Agency with the ambition of creating a ‘one-stop shop’ for the prevention of drowning and water safety harm in the UK.  The Forum is hosted by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

Carlene McAvoy, Leisure Safety Manager at RoSPA said “I speak for everyone at RoSPA when I say we are thrilled that Dawn has been appointed chair of the National Water Safety Forum. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with Dawn through my work at RoSPA and involvement with Water Safety Scotland.

I know that Dawn has the drive, passion and leadership skills to push the Forum forward to meet our objective of halving the number of accidental drownings in the UK by 2026.”

The National Water Safety Forum manages the Water Incident Database (WAID) which collates water-related incident data from a wide range of sources within the UK search and rescue region.

You can access the WAID figures via interactive report, which allows users to visualise water-related incidents by local authority area, as well as explore how demographic factors, such as age and gender, impact on accidental drowning and unintentional entry into open water.

The interactive report contains information relating to UK water incidents that were reported between 2014-2020.


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