NAPLES, Fla. - Firefighters with the North Collier Fire & Rescue have a new tool to help them save swimmers in distress: a motorized paddleboard. About a dozen firefighters trained with the board Thursday morning at Vanderbilt Beach.
"It saves our energy, and it gets our response times a lot quicker to the individual," said Lt. Brian Torres with NCFR.
WaveJet of Florida co-owner Brad Hartfield said the battery-powered boards have been available to rent for recreational use at the Vanderbilt Beach Resort for several years. But now the company is shifting its focus, after realizing the value of the motorized watercraft for life-saving efforts.
"That is the main mission and focus of the WaveJet brand now," Hartfield said. "Rescue operations, government ops, and life guards."
North Collier Fire-Rescue is the first fire department in the country to get one of the boards exclusively for rescues. WaveJet will work with NCFR on any potential improvements they might suggest. The goal is to tweak the design for mass production.
Hartfield said thousands if individuals and agencies around the world are eager to use them for water rescues.
"We're going to take some input from (NCFR) and then go back to the design table, if need be," he said.
Caroline Simms, visiting the Naples area with her family, watched the training from the beach. She's impressed with the agility of the motorized paddleboards.
"It looks amazing," Simms said. "The fact that they're using it for a purpose like helping save lives is tremendous."
Lt. Torres said the paddleboards could be used for other purposes, such as looking for lost children on the beach.