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Firefighters get wet in early diver training

Jason Hancock, fire department dive team volunteer, practices the correct way to enter the water. Five of the 30 dive team members met Friday at the YMCA Sports Park pool to learn basic dive safety. After completing all the necessary training and certification, volunteers will form the AFD’s first rescue dive team.

Jason Hancock, fire department dive team volunteer, practices the correct way to enter the water. Five of the 30 dive team members met Friday at the YMCA Sports Park pool to learn basic dive safety. After completing all the necessary training and certification, volunteers will form the AFD’s first rescue dive team.

ALBANY, Ga. -- A few of the city’s firefighters took a break from fighting fires and dealing with public safety issues Friday to have a swim at a local pool. The outing had a serious purpose, though. The five were at the YMCA Sports Park on Gillionville Road to learn the fundamentals of diving in their first real water environment.

“They’re learning the skills they’ll need to keep themselves safe,” said Scott Satterfield, instructor with Adventure Dive Center in Albany. “They’re learning how to clear their regulators when they come out of their mouths, how to clear water from their masks and what to do when they run out of air or get lost. There are several other skills they have to learn.”

According to Satterfield, all dive team candidates must be able to tread water for at 10 minutes and swim at least 200 yards.

Adventure Dive Center recently won a bid to provide dive training and equipment for up to 30 volunteers from the Albany Fire Department. When everything is done, the AFD will have its first professional rescue dive team.

“I think the closest certified team we have is in Valdosta,” said Jason Hancock, dive team volunteer. “We got some divers in Lee County, too, but by the time they get organized and come around to help, the situation is going to be pretty much a (body) recovery. If we could shorten the response time maybe we can let these (victims) stay with their families a little longer.”

Hancock, who has no previous dive experience, said the training could be challenging, even scary at times.

“We had to take our masks completely off and breathe through our regulators,” Hancock said. “Water goes up your nose and everything. I like to have freaked out one time. I’m 41 years old and used to breathing through my nose. This is not quite natural.”

After a day of training in the safety of a pool, students will tested in open water at Vortex Springs in Florida. In two days and four dives, participants will demonstrate basic diving skills, Satterfield said.

After mastering basic dive safety, students will move on to an advanced course of training, then a course in rescue basics and finally become certified public safety divers.

“With public safety certification, the team will be able to work in dry suits and full face masks in case of contaminated water. That training is at least six months down the road,” Satterfield said.

“It’s going great,” said Anthony Barber, a firefighter. “I’ve learned a lot of new techniques and all about the equipment. I’m looking at taking advantage of everything they provide for us. I just like helping people in their time of need.”

Although 30 AFD volunteers are being trained, instruction is given to smaller groups in separate sessions as schedules permit, Satterfield said. Four separate pool training days were said to be offered by Adventure Dive Center, as well as four separate “checkout” dates at Vortex Springs.

“Most people in the community think about members of the fire department as fighting fires, but it’s so much more than that,” said Fire Chief James Carswell. “Modern fire departments are responsible for many other specialized disciplines — including the dive team but also trench rescue (wells, cave-ins, etc.), confined space rescue, high angle rescue, structure collapse and the handling of hazardous material.”

Carswell said that while everyone hopes those emergencies never happen, fire teams are “constantly training” for the possibilities.

Assistant Fire Chief Ron Rowe related a classic example from “about two years ago,” he said, when a technician cleaning duct work at Procter & Gamble fell into the system.

“He broke some bones and was cut up pretty bad,” Rowe said, “and he was unable to get out of the pipe by himself.”

According to Rowe, a well-trained firefighter went into the totally dark and unfamiliar environment, tied the “proper” knot in a strap and got himself and the victim to safely.

“You have to consider that this was in a very confined area and about 30 feet up,” Rowe said. “That’s why we do the training. We do it so we’re not stressed out about it. We have to adapt the training to the situation, but the fundamentals are there so we don’t become part of the problem.”