Mar 5, 2017

Fire Department earns Red Cross Fire Rescue Award for hovercraft ice rescue

The Dewittville Volunteer Fire Department in Dewittville, New York has operated a Hovertechnics Hoverguard 700 rescue hovercraft since 2002. Its performance as a water and ice rescue vehicle has been so successful that it earned the department the American Red Cross Fire Rescue Award.

The recipients of the 2016 award were Dewittville Fire Chief Burl Swanson and first responder Furlow Francis. They were honored for a daring rescue operation they conducted when two ice fishermen fell through the ice on Chautauqua Lake. The fishermen were saved after Swanson and Francis deployed their hovercraft and brought the men to shore. The rescue was hailed by the Red Cross as one of the “most amazing ice rescue operations” ever to take place on Chautauqua Lake.”

Here, Swanson and Francis, with the two rescued ice fishermen safely on board, head for shore in “Hover 221”, their Hovertechnics rescue hovercraft …

Today, Swanson recalls the rescue, “We’ve made many ice water rescues, most of them with our Hoverguard 700. The most dramatic one was last March when we were able to rescue two ice fishermen from about 400 yards offshore on extremely bad ice. Without any doubt these two gentlemen would have perished without the capability of our Hover 221 to get to them in a timely manner and deliver them to the waiting EMS on the shore.”

Two area fire departments operate airboats, but the Dewittville Fire Department relies on their hovercraft for ice and water rescues. Chief Swanson says, “The hovercraft floats on air above the ice and is lighter than the airboat, which runs the risk of breaking up the ice due to the difference in weight. Our department uses Hover 221 primarily for ice water rescues as it is really at home on ice. Although there are two airboats on our lake, our hovercraft gives us the ability to stay above the ice and make a rescue without having to break through the ice to get to the victim.

In the photo below, Dewittville’s Hoverguard 700 operates at mass injury aircraft drill with a Coast Guard helicopter. Burl Swanson explains, “We helped transfer 55 victims from the crash site to shore to be sent to the hospital. We had 325 firefighters and 50 Coast Guard personnel. Hover 221 made a great showing!” ...

Why did the Dewittville Fire Department decide to buy a Hovertechnics hovercraft? “We had operated a small hovercraft for 10 years and decided to get a better unit,” Swanson says. “I found the Hovertechnics website and we purchased our Hoverguard 700 in 2002. This unit gave us the platform that we needed to perform ice water rescues on all types of ice conditions.

Below, the Dewittville crew appears with their rescue hovercraft this February at the Winter Festival Polar Plunge in Mayville, New York. Those participating could safely enjoy their event with Hover 221 standing guard … 

Chief Swanson concludes, “We are very pleased with our Hoverguard 700 and would recommend it to any Fire Department - especially one that borders a lake or body of water.”