Belvidere Fire Department trains with new water rescue device

BELVIDERE, Ill (WIFR) -- The United States faces about 4,000 drowning deaths a year. One hit hard for Tom McKellips, a Missouri man whose family lives in Rockford.

Water rescue device

"After watching him hang on for about 45 minutes, he let go," he says. "He really couldn't hang on anymore."

It was December 26, 2015 when Brian Hunt died in a flash flood in Missouri. McKellips responded to that call.

"If you've ever been in that situation where you feel helpless, when your entire career is supposed to be saving people, it's not a good feeling."

Hunt was too far into the river for any volunteer groups or departments to reach him. The devices they had were out of reach.

"They found his body January 1," says McKellips. "That was a tough one."

The next day he and his son went to the drawing board to create a device that could reach anyone in high winds and far distances. The device they created is called the Rocket-Buoy, and it shoots a floatation device up to 250 feet.

"I mean if this goes out across the country and just saves one life it's still worth it."

The buoy is part of a non-profit, and McKellips donated one to the Belvidere Fire Department Saturday.

"We're very blessed, that we have another tool in our toolbox," says the Department's Dan Drall, who works with the water rescue team. "Depending on the season, if we have high waters in the spring time we could possibly use it weekly."

The department learned how to use the device Saturday. Members worked on aiming toward targets in the Kishwaukee River.

McKellips says the goal is to mass produce the product and distribute it to departments nationwide.