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POMPANO BEACH (CBSMiami) – It’s a race against time for a lifeguard trying to rescue a swimmer in trouble—a race perhaps a life preserver-carrying drone can win.

During a demonstration Thursday, it took 22-seconds for a drone to get to a swimmer, but it didn’t drop the ring, it kept going, dropping the ring further away. Twenty seconds later the lifeguard arrived.

Fire Chief of Pompano Beach Fire, John Jurgle, explained to CBS4’s Ted Scouten that drones aren’t replacements for lifeguards, but may be used to assist them when attempting to save someone’s life.

“We will always use a lifeguard but we’re testing the feasibility of using a drone,” Chief Jurgle.

In the demonstrations, done by the drone company not fire rescue personnel, the drone made it to the person in half the time—but only once out of three times did it get the life preserver close to the person.

“Normally, when we’ve done this before, the pilot drops the personal floatation device literally within feet of the swimmer. Our goal is to get the device out there quickly as we can, as close to the victims we can,” said the Chief.

Fire rescue would train their own personnel to operate them. They figure drones could be especially helpful in stretches of the beach that don’t have lifeguards. It could get assistance out in seconds while human help is on the way.

“I think that’s wonderful, absolutely. It shaves minutes off a desperate situation,” said Cloe Wahl, a swimmer.

Pompano Fire Rescue is also testing the drones as surveillance at fires or after hurricanes and as possible search and rescue operations at sea—even to find lost children in a crowd.

“The benefit of having a drone, we could pop that thing up in the air and often times you can find things much quicker because you can survey a much longer area,” said Chief Jurgle.

Fire rescue officials said the drone is in a testing phase and there is no timeline as to when we may see drones on the beach.

Ted Scouten

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