October 30, 2014

Elyria
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Bobby – tiny boat on a big mission

Cute robotic boat to teach kids about wearing life jackets

ELYRIA — This summer season the Elyria Fire Department has a message for the city’s children: Water is fun to play in, but it can also be dangerous.
It’s a simple message, but how they plan to deliver it — well, that’s another story.
Meet Bobby the Boat.
He’s robotic, he’s animated, and he wants to talk to your child about water safety. He winks, too.
“Don’t pack it, wear your life jacket,” he said in a funny little voice young kids are sure to get a kick out of. “It will save your life if you get into trouble in the water.”
Bobby’s message is one Lt. Rick Thrasher hopes children take to heart, and he figures they’ll listen to a robot more than they’ll listen to him.
“Who wants to listen to a boring old fireman talk about water safety?” he said. “They want something cool with lights and sirens because that’s what they think when they think ‘fire department.’ ”
Bobby talks with the help of fellow firefighter Chris Worthy, also a member of the department’s water rescue team.
Once the audience is a group of second- and third-graders that piece of the magic will be hidden.
That’s because Worthy, who will wear a headset and hold a remote control, will be out of sight and will interact with students through a microphone.
Bobby, who is coming off a fresh paint job and fine tuning, will make his debut at this weekend’s Memorial Day Parade. He was purchased through a $30,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Thrasher, who heads the department’s water rescue team, said targeting children for water safety education is imperative because drowning is the No. 2 cause of death for children in the United States.
“We have to get down to a child’s level in order to save lives,” he said.
“That’s right,” piped in Bobby. “Safety when in and around water is super important.”
Swimming and playing in water are just two of the potentially dangerous water activities.
Boating is just as dangerous, said Michael Quinn, acting chief of the ODNR Division of Watercraft. 
“Last year in Ohio, 11 of the 12 people who drowned in boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket,” he said. “Accidents happen fast, and there often isn’t time to find a stowed life jacket when you really need it.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.