HALL COUNTY, Ga. — The Hall County Fire Marine Rescue team is changing how they operate – moving away from using divers for underwater rescues and opting for a robot instead.
The rescue team has been in place at Lake Lanier for 20 years. Fire Chief Chris Armstrong said this underwater drone is all about decreasing the risk to their divers.
However, some Hall County residents were upset to learn the news, expressing concern about what this means for safety on Lake Lanier.
“This can’t be, this is a busy lake,” Dr. Tom Jordan said.
He and his wife Temmera have helped train the divers with the fire rescue team for years.
“They don’t understand the limitations this robot is gonna have,” Temmera said.
Armstrong said his divers will no longer break the water’s surface and send the robot down instead.
“We can use the sonar, the radar, and cameras to find drowning victims and people under the water,” Armstrong said.
Lake Lanier is 38,000 acres large and Hall County is responsible for more than half. Armstrong said that adds time to any response.
“Anything greater than 30 minutes from last seen turns from rescue to recovery,” he said.
Armstrong said using the robot will cut down the risk to his divers.
“In the five years of the data that we pulled: 32 drownings, we’ve only dove 10 times. We pulled four bodies out and no survivors – so we’re taking a lot of risks and spending a lot of money and training,” he said.
Temmera said a robot still isn’t the same.
“Our divers won’t be able to go after them – a robot can’t break a window, a robot can’t cut a car seat strap,” she said.
Armstrong said that this hasn't been an issue and the agency made its decision with data to back it up.
“To my knowledge, I don’t think we’ve ever had anybody in a car in the lake,” he said.
Armstrong added that he met with the dive team to tell them of the changes.
“We met personally with the dive team and the indication they gave to me, in fact, it was said to me personally is that they saw this coming, it wasn’t a surprise,” he said.
The robot will cost around $100,000 and will be ordered over the next two months.
However, Armstrong claims they are still keeping their marine rescue team in place – they’re just adding another tool.
“We are not dismantling our team. Our team is gonna be fully engaged and on the water," he said.
The robot is expected to be in place by Memorial Day weekend of 2023.