A NEW floatation device will not only save the lives of swimmers and rock fishers in trouble, but will also protect their rescuers.
Lake Illawarra Police were at Lake Illawarra last week to demonstrate the Stormy Lifesaver, a self-inflating, horseshoe-shaped buoy.
The device will allow police arriving at the scene to help a conscious person stay afloat and swim away from rocks and other hazards on their own until rescue agencies arrive.
Lake Illawarra Commander Wayne Starling said police often arrived at an incident first, but were put at risk of injury or drowning when they entered the water.
"It is always a dangerous situation for a police officer to enter the water and provide assistance, not only due to the natural elements such as waves and rocks, but also the unpredictable behaviour of the person, who may panic," he said.
Illawarra Police Rescue Squad team leader Sergeant Mark Walsh said police had entered the water six or seven times during the summer to help people, and some officers had been injured during the rescues.
"Especially our general duties crew, if they see someone in trouble, they're going to dive into the water try and save them - it's part and parcel of what we do," he said.
He said the device would give police an option to provide support from the shore.
"Or if our guys do go into the water, it gives them something one of their offsiders can throw to them to keep them safe," he said.
With three rock fishing fatalities in the Illawarra and South Coast during the past year, Sergeant Walsh urged rock fishers to watch the surf and wear a lifejacket.
"It's not worth your safety just for a couple of fish," he said.
"[Lifejackets are] very good quality now and they can be very unobtrusive - you want to get home to your family.
"It's a pastime where you don't see yourself getting into trouble - you go out there to have a good time.
"It's that rogue wave that comes out of nowhere or that inattentive bit where they slip."
Lake Illawarra Command vehicles will be fitted with the device and all operational police will be trained in how to use it.