SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — A West Michigan emergency services department has a new tool to help with water rescues, especially after the past year.
In 2020, over 50 people drowned in Lake Michigan making it the deadliest year on record.
Just last summer, South Haven Area Emergency Services responded to 23 water rescue-related calls. That number is the highest they said they've seen in the past 10 years.
That's why they're looking forward to their new specialized drone that will enhance the rescue process.
"We had a significant increase last year," said Brandon Hinz, the Executive Director for South Haven Area Emergency Services.
In 2020, South Haven Area Emergency Services responded to three drownings and over 20 calls for water rescues.
Through a new specialized drone, rescuers now have new capabilities that will help assist them in those situations.
"We ordered a drone that has an infrared camera that can hopefully spot swimmers in distress in the lake. We can also use it for search and rescues in our outlying areas for people who may be lost in the woods. It also comes with a payload delivery system that will hold a water-activated CO-2 charged inflatable tube," said Hinz.
South Haven Area Emergency Services said the purchase was made possible through a $7,500 grant from the Albemarle Foundation.
The specialized drone allows rescuers to operate from the shore while other rescue efforts are initiated.
"Hopefully if we have a water rescue, we fly the drone above the victim and drop the payload, and it will at least offer something for the victim to hold onto," said Hinz.
Rescuers said it also gives them a better vantage point during some of the rescues.
"It does especially when we have waves because we sometimes can’t assess how many people are in the water. We can assess what kind of distress they're in, whether they are awake, conscious, holding their own or what is going on," said Zachary Kenreich, a firefighter and paramedic with South Haven Emergency Services.
"Usually if we are out at Lake Michigan for a water rescue, it is usually not very good conditions. We would prefer to not have to put our people’s lives in danger or our members' lives in danger. This would be another way to hopefully prevent that," said Hinz.
South Haven Emergency Services wants to remind people to check the flag and wave conditions before heading out to Lake Michigan as the weather gets warmer to ensure the safety of both community members and rescuers.