FREDERICKTOWN — With the recent purchase of a fully equipped rescue boat, members of the Fredericktown Community Fire District Dive Team say they are equipped to handle water emergencies quicker and safer.
Since the team was assembled in 2001, the six members have dedicated hundreds of hours to obtaining basic and advanced certifications for performing searches and rescues in difficult conditions.
The new 16-foot rescue boat has a diving platform from which divers can safely enter and exit the water. With room for six rescuers, the boat has floatation devices to throw to a victim struggling in the water, as well as ropes which can be used to tow someone to safety.
Equipped with underwater sonar, the boat can be used to search for objects and people under the water as well. During Saturday’s training, firefighters Shane Smith and Jason Whaley spent time diving, while Chief Scott Mast and probationary firefighter Matt Maihle pinpointed the divers’ locations underwater using the sonar.
Radio equipment inside the divers’ facemasks make it possible for the divers underwater to communicate with the firefighters on the boat.
The underwater sonar also uses GPS coordinates to identify locations. Smith was able to relocate a large object at the bottom of the lake using GPS coordinates marked in the computer’s memory when the object was first seen on the sonar screen during a previous dive in August.
Wearing protective, watertight suits, the divers were not protected from the effects of the 60 degree water temperature, which can cause hypothermia if divers are in the water too long.
The firefighters said protecting divers from the longest dives is one of the advantages to the new sonar system.
“It should cut way down on our initial search time because we can eliminate areas that normally you would have to take time to search underwater,” said Whaley, the team’s coordinator.
“That will increase diver safety because they won’t have to be down there as long,” said Mast.
“We can see possible hazards that might be down there as well,” said Whaley.
During the training dive, Smith encountered a large tree under the water, another danger. A diver can easily become entangled in the dark water where there is zero visibility.
On the deck of the boat, Mast was able to see the outline of the tree on the sonar screen as the boat traveled over the tree.
Mast said the boat, fully equipped, cost the department nearly $24,000, which he said was an investment in the safety of the residents of the fire district.
Although the team has been called upon for assistance at least a dozen times in the past eight years, all of the rescue efforts they have performed have been from the shore due to the lack of a rescue boat.
“Safely and confidently, we could not have performed a water rescue offshore,” said Mast.
Smith estimated the team could be in the water to aid in a rescue in approximately 30 to 40 minutes. It has responded to rescues in nearby Knox Lake and Apple Valley Lake, and has received calls for assistance from Buckeye Lake in Licking County. The team has also searched for victims in nearby quarries and gravel pits.
Mast said having a team ready to perform rescues in the district can save precious minutes during an emergency, when calling an out-of-town team can take extra time.
“Based on the number of large bodies of water in our area, this is a form of rescue we need to be prepared for,” said Mast.