Mass. lake becomes classroom for rescue divers

By Lynne Klaft
Telegram & Gazette
Copyright 2007 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
LUNENBURG, Mass. — Residents and passers-by may have wondered what all the commotion was at the town beach on Whalom Lake over the weekend.

Rescue dive team members from six Massachusetts communities, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine trained with instructors from Dive Rescue International of Fort Collins, Colo., learning the basics of underwater search and recovery.

Dive Rescue International is a nationally recognized program with a curriculum of 20 different courses, including ice rescues, swift water rescues, vehicles in water and other highly specialized offerings.

"We have 30 to 35 trainers nationwide, all with extensive fire or police experience," said instructor Chris E. Cid, a firefighter and dive team member of the Duluth, Minn., Fire Department with 19 years of SCUBA diving experience.

The recently retired fire operations chief of the Joliet, Ill., Fire Department, Jack Krynicki, was the head instructor for the weekend's training, with 34 years of diving, 28 years on the fire department and 12 years on the dive rescue team.

The 24 participants included firefighters from Lunenburg, Leominster, Fitchburg, Clinton, Sterling, Westboro, Walpole, Cambridge, Pelham, N.H., Danbury, Conn., and the Maine Warden Service.

"Our dive team operates collaboratively with the Fitchburg and Leominster Fire Department dive teams," said Lunenburg Deputy Fire Chief.

"It is difficult for each department to field enough trained personnel to safely conduct a dive operation, but working together, the three departments significantly increase the amount of manpower and equipment available," said Lunenburg Deputy Chief Patrick A. Sullivan, the dive team leader.

Lunenburg established its dive team last year, Leominster in 2005. Fitchburg has had a team for over 30 years.

The dive team is called out four to six times a year for missing people, drownings, vehicles in the water and ice rescues.

The training yesterday included a mock drowning, complete with eyewitnesses and distraught family members at the scene.

The goal of the training was to find the victims within a time frame that allows for the possibility of successful resuscitation.

Current medical research puts this window of opportunity at 60 and 90 minutes, and, according to Deputy Chief Sullivan, the record for successful resuscitation is 64 minutes.

"There are a lot of factors involved: age, water conditions, water temperature, and the trauma the victim may have suffered," he said.

Leominster Fire Department's dive team leader, Mark Matley, acted as a journalist during the scenario.

"Scene safety is a universal. The rule is if you are within 10 feet of the water, you should be wearing a life vest. We also limit the number of people at the scene and have members of the emergency responder teams keeping non-team members contained," said Lt. Matley.

Divers are affectionately called "dopes on a rope," with emergency personnel on the shore communicating and guiding their efforts with attached lines.

"Diving is the most physically demanding part of the job. They are searching the bottom, but the tenders keep the line taut and the right grid search going, the most mentally demanding part of the job," said Deputy Chief Sullivan.

Emergency responders on the shore interview eyewitnesses, help divers with gear, keep family members informed and control the scene.

"It's not as easy as it looks," said Westboro Firefighter Ken E. Ward, who acted as incident commander during the scenario.

"We were shorthanded, but the guys did a good job getting the divers going. But it was a job dealing with the press and the family members and doing the witness interviews all at the same time," said Mr. Ward.

Instructor Krynicki assured the men that real life incidents can be extremely chaotic and that police officers can be used for crowd control and interviewing.

"Relations with the press and family members will make or break your team. Give them information when you have it, show respect and concern for them, be honest," said Mr. Krynicki, who debriefed the teams on their procedures and techniques.

Lunenburg has four major bodies of water and many ponds, swamps, brooks and rivers.

"Most towns want the service, but funding is always a challenge. We were fortunate to share a Homeland Security Grant between Lunenburg and Leominster, which allowed us to begin fitting out two of our divers with proper equipment," said Deputy Chief Sullivan. He said it costs approximately $8,500 to properly outfit a public safety diver. 

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