One of the two river rescue robots, which people in the water can hold onto as a buoyancy aid, pictured in use during a training exercise on the Shannon on Sunday.

Hopes that 'river rescue robot' will save lives in Athlone

For the first time in Ireland, two 'rescue robots' are being deployed on the Shannon in Athlone in a bid to save the lives of people who get into difficulty in the river.

The 'river rescue robot' is essentially a large motorised life buoy which can be operated by remote control to reach a person in the water within seconds.

The initiative is the brainchild of the Athlone River Safety Awareness group, which is now calling for people living close to the river to volunteer to help operate the new equipment.

The river rescue robot was deployed duing a training exercise involving Gardai, members of the Athlone Sub Aqua Club, and the Lough Ree RNLI in the centre of town last Sunday morning.

Cllr Aengus O'Rourke, of Athlone River Safety Awareness, said the two rescue robots would be kept in 'survival boxes' on either side of the river, one of which would be at the Strand car park and the other at the back of Sean's Bar.

He said the rescue robot, which was sourced from Asia, via an agent in Scotland, was user-friendly and had the potential to change the way water rescues were carried out in the years ahead.

"We're just delighted with what it can do. It's a robust device, and it's very easy to use," he said.

"I think we'll give anyone who finds themselves in the water, going forward, a fighting chance that they otherwise wouldn't have had.

"Far too many times in the past we have had recovery operations, rather than rescue operations. We are trying to turn the odds on their head so that, if you get into the water, instead of having a 10% chance of survival you'll have a 90% chance of survival."

Cllr Aengus O'Rourke, Jude Kilmartin and Declan Delaney pictured at the training exercise on Sunday.

He said Athlone River Safety Awareness was now hoping to recruit 30 fully-trained volunteers who would need to be either living or working close to the river in the centre of town.

"We're hoping to build a critical mass of 30 volunteers, and we'll all be connected by an App on our phones, called icrew. Once you're trained up, you're given the code for our box, you're trained on all the equipment, and you're then a volunteer.

"Once there's an emergency on the river, a call goes up on our App and anyone who's in the vicinity and available at that time, from our 30-strong volunteers, will go to the scene, and take charge of the situation until the Lough Ree RNLI get to us, which is generally between 15 and 20 minutes.

"Hopefully, by that stage, we'll have provided a buoyancy solution to the person in the water, we'll have reassured them, and we'll have lamps on them, if it's the night-time, so that his or her precise location in the water is known by the RNLI."

Anyone who is based close to the river in Athlone town, and is interested in volunteering, is asked to visit and click 'volunteer now'.

Athlone-based Gardai at the training exercise last weekend: Gda Grainne McGauley, Gda Gillion Small, Supt. David Nolan, Sgt Damien Connaughton, Sgt Paul Kelly and Insp Brendan Moore.

Cllr O'Rourke said he was particularly pleased that all of the response and emergency services in the Athlone area were now fully connected to one another.

"For the first time ever, we now have Sub Aqua Club, RNLI, Athlone River Safety, the Gardai, the Coast Guard, all connected, so that if anything happens we're all in immediate contact with one another," he stated.

He pointed out that, last summer, a person was rescued from the river and resuscitated.

"Thankfully, that person is hale and hearty today. That is down to the training that we've received as an organisation and as a group. So the concept is proven, if you like, and we aim to be there for a very long time to come."

Athlone River Safety Awareness was established in 2019 and has since been working to raise the necessary funding to enable us to buy equipment, carry out training, and raise awareness around safety on and close to the water.