ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Manatee County beachgoers should expect to see a new safety unit patrolling the beaches.
On Monday, the county launched a new lifesaving patrol unit, which is the first of its kind on Florida's Gulf Coast.
The Quick Response Vehicle unit, which is a pilot project, will patrol the beaches with a marine rescue paramedic trained in lifeguarding proficiency, according to a news release.
This is the first time that there will be an Island-based patrol unit that offers Advanced Life support, which are medical services that lifeguards cannot provide, Marine Rescue Chief Joe Westerman said in the release.
"The new marine rescue paramedic will be able to
quickly get on scene, provide ALS care immediately, determine what kind of medication and transportation a patient needs and communicate with local hospitals on what's needed," Westerman said. "Our goal in this is to provide Anna Maria Island with an ALS unit that can quickly respond to any emergency on the island and have direct contact with the hospitals."
The new unit was supposed to be dedicated Monday morning but with the remnants of Tropical Storm Erika threatening the area, it will be rescheduled for early September, according to Nick Azzara, Manatee County spokesman.
If the unit is successful after four months, it could continue longterm, said Bob Smith, the county's public safety director. In an emergency situation, seconds can mean the difference between life and death, Smith added.
"Anything we can do to give our first responders an edge in those situations is worth exploring," Smith said.
Emergency Medical Services Chief Steve Krivjanik agreed.
"This is a first of its kind unique service model providing both ALS paramedic rescue and marine beach rescue and safety as a combined component," he said. "It's going to provide an enhanced resource for Anna Maria Island and we're hoping that the pilot service model will demonstrate the needs for a full-time enhancement."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.