Local man hopes floats save lives
By VICTOR SKINNERvskinner@record-eagle.com
TRAVERSE CITY — Jim McCall watched as rescue workers pulled the body of his good friend Martin R. Selby from the freezing waters of Long Lake, and he likely had no inkling that three years later he'd try to help others avoid the same fate.
On Jan. 11, 2003, Selby, an avid outdoorsman and ice fisherman, was driving his snowmobile on the partially frozen Grand Traverse County lake when the vehicle went through the ice, taking Selby with it and making him the third such victim in as many days.
The string of drowning deaths prompted McCall, who lives on Long Lake, to wonder how to prevent such tragedies.
"I wished that there was a device that could float a snowmobile," McCall said. "That there was a Batman-like thing that could turn a snowmobile into a raft."
A few months later, McCall received a brochure in the mail from a company call Nebulus that specializes in emergency inflatable devices.
He immediately contacted the president of Nebulus, told him his story and asked to become a distributor for the Minnesota-based company.
"The president of the company drove here to Michigan and demonstrated (the product)," McCall said.
The life-saving devices use CO2 cartridges to inflate into a 5-by-6-foot raft in about five seconds, and can keep afloat a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle and three adults, McCall said. The Nebulus weighs about 17 pounds and prior to inflation is roughly the size of a briefcase.
McCall approached the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department last fall about a possible donation of a few inflatables after realizing the device's potential use for emergency first responders.
"I figured the more units that are in their squad cars the better chance of saving someone's life," McCall said during a recent demonstration of the Nebulus at the sheriff's department. "They are usually the first ones to respond to an emergency scene."
Last week, the department received 24 Nebulus Emergency Flotation Devices. With a retail price of $625 each, the donation is worth $15,000. The sheriff's department is the first law enforcement agency in Michigan to utilize the device, McCall said.
"This is an unexpected donation," said Sheriff Scott Fewins.
Fewins said the department was hoping to get two or three units to start, but was surprised when they received two dozen. He said the department will keep the inflatables in patrol cars for emergency use.
"The devices have almost unlimited uses" in the winter and the summer, Fewins said. "The potential of using these new tools could very easily save human life."
In Minnesota, the Nebulus was used to lift a car off a crash victim, McCall said.
To date, McCall has yet to sell any of the rafts, but has given about six to local outdoorsmen who could not afford one.
"I can't continue to give them away forever, but I would rather have them out there in the community than sitting in my garage," he said. McCall currently sells the rafts at a discount cost of $495.
Additional information on the devices is available at www.nebulusflotation.com.
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