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New remote device could speed underwater rescues
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New remote device could speed underwater rescues

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FONTANA – The Fontana Fire and Rescue Department is raising funds to purchase an underwater device that could make a life-saving difference in submerged rescues.

With about one-third of what is needed to fund the $60,000 to $90,000 remote-operated vehicle, or ROV, the department continues to seek contributions to acquire its newest lifesaving tool.

Fire Chief Wolfgang Nitsch said the device — outfitted with a camera, sonar and remote-controlled arm — is able to begin underwater searches quicker than divers during critical moments when a victim may be submerged.

“With this device, we could get it in the water within two to three minutes, it doesn’t take long to set up, and with some training, it will be an even shorter period of time,” Nitsch said. “We can send it down and it can start search patterns, looking for individuals who might be beneath the surface.”

The ROV can also be used to scout areas that may be hazardous for divers or in low-visibility waters.

“We can send it down in areas for risk-benefit analysis where it might not be the best place for a diver to be,” Nitsch said. “A machine is replaceable if something happened to it, whereas a diver issue can be traumatic.”

If the department is able to purchase the remote-operated vehicle, the device will be available not only for Fontana rescues but incidents throughout Walworth County.

The department operates under a countywide mutual aid system that allows rescue teams to share supplies and personnel. This is a way for fire departments to have access to high-quality equipment without any one group needing to purchase everything.

“The idea is that, throughout the county, to get everybody to have a tool or two they can bring to an incident like this,” Nitsch said. “One department simply can’t obtain them all.”

Lake Geneva Fire Capt. Dennis Detkowski said while the mutual aid group has access to a remote-operated vehicle through the state Department of Natural Resources, access to the device depends on its availability.

“I would strongly agree that there is a need for an ROV,” Detkowski said. “Safety is our top priority. If we can effect a rescue or recovery by mitigating and/or reducing risk to a diver, it is a technology we should embrace.”

Detkowski added there have been many situations in recent years where an ROV would have been useful.

It is unclear when fundraising will be complete to purchase the underwater device. Nitsch said he hopes donations will make the potentially life-saving device available as soon as possible.

Delavan Police and Fire Chief Tim O’Neill agreed that with the large number of lakes throughout the county, he has no doubt that an underwater rescue device would be useful to his department’s dive team.

“I can think of numerous times it would have been useful in our situation, and we certainly support their efforts,” O’Neill said. “Even as a support vehicle for the dive team, this would be a great investment.”

In an underwater rescue, O’Neill said, time is a factor that is always working against responders. Access to the new device, he added, may offer potentially life-saving moments that would otherwise be spent preparing to dive.

“Time is the factor that is usually against us,” he said, “so having the expediency of getting high-tech equipment there in a hurry is valuable.”

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