FDNY firefighters, drones help provide crucial support to lifeguards at New York City beaches

Sonia Rincón Image
Wednesday, July 10, 2024
FDNY provides crucial support to lifeguards at NYC beaches
Sonia Rincón has details on the FDNY's new rescue drone pilot program.

ROCKAWAY BEACH, Queens (WABC) -- Lifeguards at New York City's beaches are having a very busy summer and have already pulled off countless heroic rescues, and there to back them up is the FDNY, who have eyes in the skies and firefighters trained in water rescues at the ready.

When five swimmers got stuck on a jetty last Sunday, sending Rockaway Beach lifeguards to the rescue, they had some reinforcements from the FDNY, whose drone guided them and captured incredible video.

"There's a rip current that we're aware of that always exists on Beach 91st Street," said FDNY firefighter Kevin O'Malley. "Unfortunately, it took some people out with the rip and then the tide pushed them onto the rocks. So, immediately we had to assist some victims on the rocks."

The FDNY's robotics unit, with drones used in firefighting, is now part of a Beach Task Force with multiple agencies supporting the Parks Department's busy lifeguards at a time when they're in high demand and short supply.

"We've been training with them, and we have pretty good communication with the lifeguards," said FDNY Acting Chief Of Department John Esposito. "So when they need the assistance, we're there to help them."

Their mission Sunday was a success on a hot day that made for a busy beach and 911 calls.

"We had a missing child," Esposito said. "There was a fear that that child was in the water. It took a little bit to understand that. EMS was treating an unconscious patient on the beach. Further to the east, we had a shark sighting"

The FDNY drones were first put to work here last summer to spot sharks after the first attack on a swimmer at Rockaway Beach in decades. They quickly realized how useful those drones could be to lifeguards to spot swimmers in distress. Now they can be used to rescue them, too.

A drone can actually drop down a flotation device called a "Rest tube" that deploys when it hits the water.

That swimmer is a firefighter acting as a person in distress for a training drill.

This type of drill is done twice a week. It was foggy and windy Wednesday morning.

"So, it's pretty real world, dangerous conditions. But we were able to exercise it and get our guys in good practice," Esposito said.

Essential practice for the real world of warming water throughout the summer. That might bring in sharks or pull out swimmers.

"Rip currents always exist, but when they start to pull, that's when we start to pay more attention to whether or not we're going to be effected that day," O'Malley said.


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