Relief driver Matt Cirullo drops from a ladder into Radium Springs as part of a group of 25 Albany Fire Department volunteer divers working to become a certified dive rescue/recovery team. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
AFD Dive Training
The Albany Fire Department takes part in dive training and scuba equipment testing at Radium Springs in East Albany.
ALBANY — Seven Albany firefighters left the stifling Southwest Georgia heat for the chilly waters of Radium Springs Monday afternoon, continuing their ongoing training to become part of the Albany Fire Department’s certified dive rescue/recovery team.
Albany Fire Department rescue/recovery team trains at Radium Springs
Personnel with the Albany Fire Department who are preparing to work on the department's rescue and recovery team escaped the blazing Southwest Georgia heat Monday for the chilly waters of one of Albany's natural wonders, Radium Springs. The team was conducting training and trying out some new equipment in the springs.
Monday’s dive moved individuals who are part of AFD’s 25-man water rescue/recovery team closer to Chief James Carswell’s goal of having a full team of public safety-certified divers by the end of the summer. To obtain that classification, each firefighter must complete 20-plus dives of 15- to 20-feet deep with a duration of longer than 20 minutes and complete certification requirements in full facemask and full dive suits.
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“The Albany Fire Department is not just a collection of firefighters,” Batallion Chief Keith Ambrose, who led Monday’s dive exercise, said. “We have a haz-mat (hazardous materials) and a GSART (Georgia Search and Rescue) team. We’ve been talking about a water rescue/recovery team for a while, and we’re pleased to have received a grant that allowed us to purchase the equipment we need to put together a certified team.
“The (dive/rescue) team is another tool that the department has in its service to the people of Albany, Dougherty County and this region.”
Carswell said creation of a local dive/rescue team had been pinpointed by area emergency management agencies as one of the region’s public safety needs.
“During a regional EMA meeting about a year and a half ago, we were discussing specific needs of the region,” the APD chief said. “Having a readily available rescue team was one of those needs. We have volunteer groups in Lee County, Tifton and Thomasville, but we chose to put together our own group to serve the immediate needs of Dougherty County and Albany and to also be available to other jurisdictions in Southwest Georgia.
“We asked for volunteers who were willing to go through the training to become certified dive team members, and we initially had 30 of our folks interested. We’re down to about 25 now, and about 15 of them have completed requirements for advanced diver certification. Once we get everyone to at least that level, that gives us the ability to go into any water for a rescue or recovery mission.”
To get to the advanced level, divers must complete at least nine dives, with at least one dive in each of five categories: night, deep, navigation, boat and drift. All seven divers who took part in Monday’s exercise — Ambrose, Capt. Clint Nobles, firefighter Lorenzo Richardson, relief drivers Joey Rogers and Matt Cirulla, and apparatus operator engineers David Knight and Michael Thornton — had moved beyond advanced certification and were only a handful of dives short of qualifying for the next level: rescue.
The desired public safety level would follow.
“We’ll be called a dive rescue/recovery team, but realistically that’s a misnomer,” Ambrose said. “It takes a while for a dive team to get to a site and get ready. So unless the site is very close, we’re usually going to be involved in recovery of a victim.
“What we hope is that, as we become more advanced, we’re not only capable of recovering victims, but also evidence that may have been discarded in a body of water.”
In a lighter moment during Monday’s dive, the seven AFD team members engaged in a brief recovery “mission” when one of the divers had a fin pop free in the murky water. It was recovered quickly, and the divers soon made their way underwater, headed for the cave that is the source of the springs.
“It’s funny, I was born and raised in Albany, but this is the first time I will have gone into Radium Springs,” Nobles said just before the dive. “My dad talked about going there when he was younger, so I’m really excited about this dive.”
Ambrose said Hal Pinson and Scottie Satterfield, both paramedics with Dougherty Emergency Medical Services, had been instrumental in offering instruction to the AFD divers. The team has completed dives in Florida lakes and in the Gulf of Mexico at Panama City Beach, Fla.
Carswell said that while the dive rescue/recovery team is still in its infancy, it has already been involved in one “real-life” exercise.
“There was a recent drowning (in Lee County), and while the victim had been recovered before our team members got there, they were able to locate and recover some of the victim’s personal effects,” the AFD chief said.