Chief Jerry Ralston of the Fort Morgan Fire Department says thanks to funding from Baldwin County, his department has one of the most innovative lifeguard devices available to help in water rescues.
“It’s battery operated and it’s basically a 3-foot-long remote control boat,” Ralston said. “It’s a flotation device with a life vest and a radio on it. It will support up to four people. There’s a harness on the top of it with lanyards they can hang onto. It is to assist them until we can get to them with our wave runner.”
After running it through its paces and getting crew trained on how to operate the EMILY, or Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, Ralston says it’s ready for service.
“So far with all our testing it’s been great,” he said. “We thank the County Commission for it and it’s ready to go out right now, but we hope every day we never have to throw it in the water.”
Ralston said volunteer firefighters began doing research on lifesaving methods and devices after a spate of drownings on beaches in the unincorporated area of Baldwin County. Fort Morgan started a fundraiser after 17-year-old Jevon Lemke jumped in the Gulf to help a struggling family member in March 2018. His body has never been found and the new device is named after him.
When department members went before the commission asking for help with the fundraiser, commissioners voted to pay the entire $15,000 to buy the EMILY.
“We purchased one and gave it to them so that they could have it in their arsenal for rescues,” Chairman Skip Gruber said. “They’d had several drownings and we were trying to come up with something to help them. They were trying to raise the money and came to us and we went ahead and purchased it and assigned it to them.”
The EMILY is just the latest change in Fort Morgan to increase beach safety on the peninsula. There are more than 2,000 vacation rental houses or condos along the beaches there.
“We put up some early warning signage and some devices out there,” Gruber said. “The fire department itself, when they have a riptide, they’ve got lights on signs to warn for rip currents. They can set them off from their vehicle that warns people. Also, we’ve put a lot of posting down there and a lot of sign work to help with that.”
Ralston said his crews are also doing more than just reacting when the call of a swimmer in distress comes in.
“We started a new program last year in response to the drownings,” Ralston said earlier this month. “We sort of used to wait until we got a call and then go out on the beach and try and do a rescue. We’re being much more proactive. We have people out at this moment. We’re going up and down the beach warning them about rip currents and to stay out of the water when conditions are like they are today.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).