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Underwater Drone to Help With Water Rescues

“With the tragedies… over the last few years around ice and water we feel this would be money well spent and certainly getting a grant to pay for that will help tremendously.”

EM_search and rescue
Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA
(TNS) - The city is purchasing a high-tech underwater drone to assist in search and rescue operations on the Connecticut and Chicopee rivers.

Using a $27,950 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Emergency Management, the city will purchase the drone and a trailer that will be used to house and transport a utility terrain vehicle that the city already owns and is garaged at Fire Station 3, said Glenn Joslyn, director of Chicopee’s Emergency Management Department.

“With the tragedies… over the last few years around ice and water we feel this would be money well spent and certainly getting a grant to pay for that will help tremendously,” Mayor John L. Vieau said.

He remembered three boys who have died in the past three years after falling through the ice on the rivers and offered his sympathies to the families.

The first accident took place on Dec. 28, 2019, when Minhal Hussain, 10, a fifth-grader at Sgt. Robert Litwin School, and his cousin Salman Jaffrey, 11, of Rhode Island, went out to play and fell through the ice on the Chicopee River. A year later, Adian Blanchard, 11, a sixth-grader, went outside for a walk on Feb. 5, 2021, and fell through the ice on the Connecticut River.

With two major rivers flowing through the city, an underwater drone will be a valuable tool to help in underwater searches and rescues, he said.

It could also save lives and prevent long recovery efforts to help families. The search for Minhal took four days and Aiden’s body was not found until April, despite extensive multi-agency searches that took place often when weather conditions made it possible.

“We really have a class act when it comes to our rescue teams,” Vieau said. “They really go the extra mile so we want to provide the tools to help them keep themselves safe and also to be as most efficient as possible especially when we are trying to protect human lives.”

The underwater drone has a camera and is operated by remote control. It can be used in multiple situations.

Councilor Frank N. Laflamme said he hopes police and firefighters will have an opportunity to train with and use it so it can be deployed quickly in the case of emergency, even though it will be purchased by the emergency management department.

In many past emergencies, Vieau said he has seen local police and firefighters collaborate with departments in neighboring communities as well as the Massachusetts State Police and said that will continue with the use of the drone.

City Councilor Gerard A. Roy, a retired firefighter, said the city has been talking about equipping emergency rescue teams with aerial drones for several years, but former Mayor Richard J. Kos did not make it a spending priority.

“I think it is an important piece of equipment for the city,” he said.

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