EMILY has arrived at the South Gulf County Volunteer Fire Department and for all those who love the waters, she is right on time.
EMILY (Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard) is a swift water rescue device that broadens the ability of the fire department to avoid events such as last summer, when rip currents nearly killed Chief Nick Vacco during a rescue.
In person, sort of, EMILY appears to be a small plastic boat with a canvas over the top.
Nothing all that special and not far removed from the remote control boats which have been around for entertainment for years.
But this remote controlled boat, and it is indeed simply and easily controlled with a hand-held control from shore, is something much more.
Four feet long and weighing roughly 25 pounds, EMILY is capable of pulling up to five grown adults from the water.
Powered by a pack containing four lithium batteries, which provides about 30 minutes of operational time, EMILY is faster, more steady and far less dangerous than other tools, jet skis, pneumatically launched ropes, life boards, flotation devices.
EMILY was developed for the U.S. Navy for water rescues and stealth missions, Vacco said.
The manufacturer discovered a market among coastal communities around the world to provide a tool for swift water rescue that could not be accomplished by lifeguards or on jet skis.
It is now deployed for water rescue around the world; Vacco was originally drawn to it after seeing EMILY used in Dubai.
EMILY can achieve speeds of 22-25 mph after being launched, after an easy carry into shallow surf, and is aimed at the distressed individual in the water.
Waves are nothing and if it teeters, it easily rights itself.
“The key to EMILY is to get out there quickly and provide flotation,” Vacco said. “Once the person has flotation, the immediate danger is gone.”
It delivers life jackets attached on top and contains handles and ropes sufficient for five people to grab and hold.
As for the person on shore at the controls, no matter how rough, or high, the waves, as long as they can see EMILY they can control it.
EMILY is no cheap date, SGCVFD put $12,000 into its first and is adding another to its station on the peninsula.
“The concept is we’ll have one at each station, deployed and ready to go,” Vacco said.
And go, one can.
Deployed in the back of a truck, once the tailgate comes down EMILY can be easily lifted out, lanyard attached and deployed within, literally, seconds.
The lanyard provides the distance; attached to a spool, the lanyard, really marine rope, can add 800-2,000-feet to EMILY’s range.
The lanyard also offers the towing mechanism to bring the distressed swimmers to shore.
While EMILY has sufficient power to carry a small child to shore, it lacks the power to return on its own carrying any adults.
During a training run Tuesday, albeit in rather tame waters, a “rescue” of a swimmer 150-200 yards offshore was accomplished, by novices, in mere seconds; the real time was expended with the pulling to shore.
The decision by the SGCVFD board to purchase EMILY was spurred by events of last summer that nearly cost Vacco is life while rescuing multiple distressed swimmers off Cape San Blas.
“The cardinal rule is you don’t give up your own life jacket, but instincts took over,” the long-time chief said.
Vacco was hospitalized weeks.
“With the nearest state and federal water rescue resources often an hour away, it is critical that local first responders have a capability to respond immediately with capable equipment without endangering themselves,” said Al Stuart from the SGCVFD board.
The SGCVFD is a non-profit dedicated to the safety of the largest concentrated population of humans each year in Gulf County.
The department handles twice the calls as the other volunteer fire departments in the county, combined.