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Mobile app helps off-duty Cpt locate, rescue 2 boaters

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A mobile app called “What 3 Words” helped an off-duty sheriff’s captain find and rescue two people who jumped from a boat that caught fire last week. The app led deputies straight to the man and woman, who dove into alligator-infested waters at Blue Cypress Lake to evade the flames, officials said.

“What 3 Words,” utilized by search and rescue teams across the globe, allows for quicker response times to emergencies. Instead of looking at numbers from GPS coordinates, the app allows users to hone in to a more exact location using three random words for every 10 square feet.

“The app translates any location in the world into 10-by-10 grids,” said sheriff’s Cpt. Tony Consalo, who used his 25-foot long Bennington Pontoon to rescue the husband and wife. “It assigns three random words to locations on the grid. If you walk 10 feet to another location, there would be another random three words.”

The app for iPhone iOS and Android users works offline, which comes in handy for areas with unreliable data connection, according to the app’s website. The app makes it easy for users to find and share exact locations.

The three words that took deputies to the boaters’ location were “obey, shrewdly, and purified,” Consalo said. No injuries were reported in the fire, sheriff’s officials said.

How to share what3words address in an emergency

  1. Open the free what3words app.
  2. Tap the Locate Me icon.
  3. The what3words address for your current location will be displayed at the top of the screen.
  4. Read out the three words to your emergency call taker.

The rescue

The man and woman were traveling in a blue Stratos boat about 10:35 a.m. March 14 in the water near the 7400 block of Blue Cypress Lake Road. The man told 911 dispatchers he and his wife were on the boat for about 15 minutes before it began going up in flames, reports show. The couple then jumped into the lake.

“When a call comes in, the center receives the GPS coordinates from the cellphone,” Consalo said. “Then our dispatcher converts the coordinates using the ‘what3words’ app and provides that information to the deputy.”

The man said he and his wife were “floating in the water and unable to touch the bottom,” according to an incident report. Consalo had just finished chartering his vessel and was backing his boat up to the trailer at Middleton’s Fish Camp boat ramp when he saw sheriff’s patrol cars come around the corner.

“They told me there was a boat fire. We immediately put the boat back in the water,” Consalo said. “We used the app to find the boat. I saw smoke. I didn’t see the individuals. They were about 100 yards north of the boat.”

Deputies then spotted the man and woman in the 6-foot deep wavy waters, Consalo said. Consalo said the man was on his tip toes holding the woman up above the water.

Consalo and the deputies brought the man and woman aboard the boat and took them back to the boat ramp. Consalo then used his boat to take firefighters to extinguish the flames on the other vessel, he said.

The boat sustained minor damages, sheriff’s officials said. Deputies towed the boat back to the dock.

Mating season for alligators typically begins in May or June in Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Consalo said the boat rescue was a matter of him “being in the right place at the right time.”

Consalo said deputies receive training for all types of hazardous scenarios. The exercises teach officers to remain calm in all situations and prioritize their responses.

“The most important (response) is to protect life. So in essence the day of this event the main concern was for the safety of the two people in the water and saving them,” Consalo said. “When you train to deal with emergency situations, you are able to remain calm and think clearly which helps for a successful outcome. The fact that we were also able to save the boat and recover it was just a bonus.”

Photos provided by Indian River County Sheriff’s Office

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