Clear Lake Fire Department gets anonymous donation for underwater search and rescue device

CLEAR LAKE — The Clear Lake Volunteer Fire Department has received an anonymous donation to be used to purchase a remotely operated underwater vehicle to be utilized for search and rescue operations throughout north-central Iowa.

Fire Chief Doug Meyers says it’s basically a computer-controlled submarine the size of travel luggage that can be used from a boat platform in the open-water season as well as from the ice during the winter months. “The drone itself has a couple of different sensors on it. There’s some high-intensity lighting that’s included with it, and a live video camera. Probably the most important part is a multi-beam sonar that’s attached to it. That would be much more useful when the water is kind of cloudy or poor visibility, like at night when you don’t have a lot of ambient lighting. The sonar is a real high-intensity sonar that allows for basically 3D imaging objects in the water, whether it be a victim of a drowning or a submerged piece of equipment like an ATV or car or something like that.”

Meyers says when reflecting on the past, this piece of equipment would have been a tremendous help in rescue efforts. “What it does is that it really would shorten down the length of time you could do a search of an area, plus in the event that you were able to locate something with traditional side-scan sonar, this would allow you to grab a hold of the victim with some sort of retrievable device on it, or deploy some sort of marking system, whether it would be a small buoy or line to the victim, that you could use for the retrieval process.”

Meyers says the device would also help reduce the number of department members in the water searching for a victim, especially in the winter months.  “In particular in Clear Lake when we have the aerator sections that are wide open and really cover a large area, especially in the early and late season when you may have areas of 30 or 40 acres of open water, and it’s almost impossible to get a small boat to those areas and then use traditional sonar. This could be deployed directly from the ice, and we have about 450 feet of tether line that we could use from the safety of the ice shelf without putting people in the water.”

Meyers says it’s great to see people step up such as the anonymous donor for this piece of equipment as well as those who made the donation for the department’s fire boat.  “The fire boat was donated by a couple that was passionate about the lake as well as the community as a whole. They had a lot of experience with boating and sailing. Those are the type of people that make living in Iowa great, they look forward to giving back to communities when they have opportunities.”

Meyers says they will have a couple of weeks of training before having the device ready for use, and he says under their mutual aid agreements, it will be available for other departments to use when needed.