Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue: Lifesaving robots bought for $56K can’t be trusted

Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – The Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce spent tens of thousands of dollars on four remote control robotic lifeguards called Emilys last year — but this summer, you will not be seeing them on the beach.

News13’s Julie Calhoun looked into how the lifesaving equipment has been plagued with problems. She dug through months of emails between Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue and the company that makes the robots.

The emails showed months of maintenance issues.

Every second counts when a swimmer is in trouble. That’s why the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce spent $56,000 on four Emily robots that are supposed to get to a swimmer faster than any human can.

Emails between Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue and the company that makes Emily, Hydronalix, show mechanical issues started not long after they got them last May.

Some issues mentioned multiple times over months of emails show a range of problems.

The department replaced multiple parts, batteries drained quickly, and they noticed a lot of moisture between the top cover and antenna.

Emails show some Emilys were in service last summer, but an email from MBFR Chief Tom Gwyer to the company in September reads: “We are still experiencing connectivity issues with the Emilys. Battalion Chief Mitchell has been working with your support folks since June, but we cannot trust them to work when someone’s life is one the line.”

Emails show the department spent more than 100 tech hours on Emilys, but the problem persisted.

This email is from October: “I attempted to use Emily Number 2 today to advise swimmer he was too far from shore. Emily made it through 2 waves, then the boat would only turn to the right. Luckily, waves brought Emily back to the beach. Multiple beachgoers took video of this scene.”

A video shows fire rescue attempting to use Emily three different times, and you see all three times it loses connectivity in a matter of seconds.

An email from Hyrdonalix in response states: “We have Emily’s in service and active in over 33 countries, the U.S. Navy and in fire departments across the United States. We have never come across the problems that Myrtle Beach is having in utilizing Emilys in conjunction with beach patrol services. I am at a complete loss.”

A representative and technician with Hyrdonalix traveled to myrtle beach last October and made repairs on all four boats. But about a month later, MBFR reached out to a fire department in Hopewell, Va., that also uses Emilys asking if they’ve had maintenance issues. MBFR said they’re experiencing multiple problems

And just this past January, a fire department in Oregon responded to MBFR describing some of their issues and new parts they’ve received from the company

Hydronalix did not return our call or emails.

Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue says they’ve been advised to not discuss this matter and referred us to the City of Myrtle Beach attorney.

News13 asked the City of Myrtle Beach if any legal action has been and if the emily boats can be returned.

The city said they are not using the Emilys and the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce paid for them, so any return of funds would go back to the Chamber. News13 also reached out to the chamber of commerce for a statement and has yet to hear back.

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