Fire Service team tests its search and rescue capabilities

RCIPS unveils its new drone

Swimmers and beachgoers in the territory’s waters should feel safer, as the Cayman Islands Fire Service now has the training and capacity to carry out inshore search and rescue missions.

Previously, such rescues were largely handled by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s Joint Marine Unit with the support of the RCIPS helicopter, according to Phil Bostock, a United Kingdom coastguard commander here to help local law enforcement establish the Cayman Islands Coastguard.

“In the past, the marine unit has been alone in conducing search and rescue with the help of the helicopter, but there’s only one unit on the opposite side of the island,” Mr. Bostock said. “The Fire Service is a really good resource [to assist in rescues] because they have a 24/7 staff capability, they’re on the alerting chain already, and now they have the assets that can support that capability and react a lot quicker in many cases than the police can.”

For instance, on Sunday, the police assisted several distressed swimmers, but had to use a private vessel to reach them, said Steve Fitzgerald, the RCIPS air operations unit commander.

“The aircraft can find people quickly, but we need to get people in the water,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “This is where the Fire Service’s inshore boat will come in handy.”

On Wednesday, the Fire Service was put to the test to make sure they will be ready to assist when a potential emergency arises. As the RCIPS helicopter hovered over the West Bay Public Beach, fire officers participated in a simulation, taking their boat in the water to rescue a distressed swimmer.

Fire Service officers keep an eye on the water as efforts are made to locate a ‘distressed’ swimmer during a mock search-and-rescue exercise on Wednesday.

Chief Fire Officer David Hails said the exercise was the culmination of 12 months of his department acquiring the necessary equipment and training to be able to handle a live search-and-rescue situation.

“This exercise today has brought together all of that training … to make sure everything is working and ready to go,” Mr. Hails said.

Along with carrying out the distressed-swimmer exercise, the RCIPS also unveiled its new drone, a DJI Matrice 210 model.

Mr. Fitzgerald said his unit has been operating a smaller drone for about a year, and now has a larger model similar to ones used by law enforcement agencies around the world.

The drone will be used when it is needed during police operations, he said.

Alvaro Serey contributed to reporting this story.

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