ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — North County Fire and Rescue recently added a new tool to help with water rescue and recovery efforts.

AquaEye is a handheld sonar device from VodaSafe. Carlyn Loncaric, the company’s CEO and founder, was once a lifeguard. She believed more could be done to prevent drownings.

“It really bothered me that most children drowned within 20 feet of shoreline, and it’s because we can’t see them.”

The company brands the device as the first handheld sonar device using artificial intelligence to specifically search for humans in water.

North County Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Goldstein said the department purchased the device two months ago. First responders with North County Fire and Rescue have been testing the device and training with it. Goldstein hopes to put AquaEye into service soon.

“We feel fortunate to have it,” he said.

The device can be held underwater and scan an area of nearly two acres within five minutes. A dot appears on a screen if an object is detected. If an “X” appears, that’s an indication a person or body was detected.

Goldstein said one first responder can scan the water with the device while relaying the information to a rescue team.

“The operator can tell the rescue crews, ‘Hey, go 30 feet in this direction, 35 degrees off of where I am, and start searching that area,'” he said.

Loncaric said AquaEye began as a tool for beachfront lifeguards and camp operators.

“Then as we started selling, we realized it wasn’t just lifeguards facing this problem,” It’s firefighters, police officers, search and rescue teams, all sorts of first responders that are working in even much more difficult situations.”

Goldstein added, “It is going to be a lifesaver for this fire district and other fire districts that might need to use it.”

North County Fire and Rescue is part of a mutual aid system.

“We work as mutual aid companies throughout St. louis County, Jefferson County, St. Charles County so, this thing can be deployed anywhere that the boat team goes,” said Goldstein.

He said the department purchased the device for less than $5,000. Goldstein believes AquaEye will also help keep first responders safe during water rescues.