East Lake Fire rescuers using new technology

Department hopes other agencies will start using technology

Fire department hopes others will start using this technology
The technology will help divers save people stuck in vehicles underwater.


The East Lake Fire Department has a new tool to help rescue people who trapped underwater in cars or capsized boats.

“We are training with some other fire departments, (including the) Clearwater Fire Rescue, Madiera Beach Fire Rescue and a couple of sheriff’s deputies from Sarasota County,” East Lake Fire Rescue Lieutenant Gary Hurlbut said.

The training took place on the Hillsborough County side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Divers pulled a practice dummy out of a submerged car, and the crews also practiced rescuing one another from a capsized boat in the water.

“Time is of the essence. You have to get to that victim who will drown in about five minutes when that vehicle fills up with water so we have to get there quickly,” Wyatt Werneth said.

The Rapid Diver provides a rescuer with a big face mask to give the diver more visibility. It also has a system that allows divers to talk to one another while underwater. In addition, there’s an oxygen tank that hooks up to a vest, allowing a diver to stay and search underwater longer.

“Traditional gear just didn’t cut it because it was too big, bulky and heavy … This gear is small, compact, and you can put it on fast,” Werneth said. He works for Bauer Compressors.

East Lake Fire Rescue’s dive team is the first in the Tampa Bay area to buy the Rapid Diver equipment.

“We are hoping and praying everyone sees your segment (on News Channel 8) and (asks) their fire department leaders why don’t we have this in our communities,” Hurlbut said.

The Rapid Diver can cost upwards of $4,000 per diver, but Werneth said if it can save one person, it’s worth it.

“It’s been proven that 500 people lost their lives submerged under water in their vehicles … We need this equipment,” he added.

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