SHAES drone photo

Zach Kenreich, a first responder for South Haven Area Emergency Services, deploys a drone-delivering flotation device that can be sent to swimmers in distress in Lake Michigan. The drone was donated to SHAES by the Albemarle Foundation in South Haven.

The ability of South Haven Area Emergency Services responders to conduct water rescues has been enhanced with the acquisition of a specialized drone.

The purchase was made possible through a $7,500 grant from the Albemarle Foundation. SHAES bought the drone after three swimmers drowned in Lake Michigan off the shores of South Haven in 2020.

The Albemarle Foundation is employee-driven and seeks through its grants to make an impact in the communities where its employees live and work, according to a news release from SHAES.

Albermarle Corp., which created the foundation, has a plant in South Haven.

The drone is equipped with a payload delivery system that is capable of dropping carbon dioxide-charged, water-activated flotation devices to swimmers struggling in the water. Operated from the shore, the handler is able to view a distressed swimmer through the drone’s camera.

“We are excited to add this drone to our arsenal of water rescue tools for the upcoming summer months,” SHAES Executive Director Brandon Hinz said in the news release.

Last summer, SHAES responded to 23 incidents involving people in distress on Lake Michigan; a summer in which Lake Michigan’s water levels were at record-high numbers. Three of those swimmers drowned.

The drone is equipped with an infrared camera that can be used to locate distressed swimmers in the dark. It is also capable of detecting heat signatures for search and rescue efforts in rural areas, such as woods and cornfields.

The Albemarle Foundation has provided funding to SHAES before. Grants in recent years have been used to buy water rescue equipment for paid-on-call staff and to acquire bicycles outfitted with EMS supplies for quick response in congested areas.