New 'gun' could save life during water rescue

By  | 

PLEASANT HOPE, Mo. (KY3) - The emergency call came last holiday season during a period of heavy rainfall and flooding. A driver, Brian Hunt, had been swept away from the Highway H bridge over Pomme De Terre River north of Pleasant Hope.

"The water was rising so fast and stuff; we couldn't get to him," said Pleasant Hope Fire Protection District Chief Greg Wood. "We just felt helpless."

Brian Hunt, who was 52, did not make it; his body was found one week later on New Year's Day.

The tragedy was devastating for his family and community who had been searching, hoping for the best.

"My dad [Tom] felt helpless, I felt helpless. I wasn't able to help. We didn't have tools," said Cody McKellips, a volunteer with the Walnut Grove Fire Department who aided in the search effort.

The 20-year old volunteer happens to be an engineering student at Missouri S&T in Rolla, and possesses the know-how to possibly make a difference next time.

"I think what drove me the most of all is the people of this department, it hit them hard, especially the wife of Brian Hunt," he said

McKellips, his dad, Tom, and helpers worked to develop the Last Chance. With a boom, this air cannon launches a rocket on a rope to victims out on the water. That rocket made of foam gives the person something to hold on to, staying afloat so rescuers can reel them in.

"All the time you see on YouTube videos all kinds of air guns. You see potato guns, you see kids playing. It (Last Chance) is an oversized potato gun," he said with a chuckle.

Despite the simplistic appearance of the device, a lot of design and testing went into the project. McKellips said It took a lot of trial and error to get the shape of the rocket just right so it could be aimed and projected properly. Different air pressure settings let the rescuers shoot the gun with forces appropriate for the distance into the water where the victim is.

"It wall be a big help and at least have something to get a rope or something to him," said Wood.

It uses air from firefighters breathing tanks. The materials cost less than $200, which is a good deal for departments on a tight budget.

Pleasant Hope becomes the first district to get one of these simple life-saving tools. On New Year's Day, exactly one year after Hunt's body was found, its volunteer firefighters got a chance to see the tool and test it out for themselves.

McKellips, his dad, and team are raising money to get these to even more rural rescue teams. Working as a non-profit group called Global Rescue Systems, they hope to be able to build and offer the device at a low cost, or no cost, to fire and rescue departments. They have set up a GoFundMe account in hopes of raising $14,000.

"One of my dreams is I always want to give back to the people and do great things from them," McKellips said.

"I hope we never use it," said Chief Wood. "If we do, we got it to help us save someone's life. We don't want anyone to drown."