By John Anderson
Camp Gleason was used for a four-day training session by the District 7 Technical Rescue Team, Underwater Rescue & Recovery Division starting last Thursday and ending on Sunday. The subject was vehicle recovery and featured classroom sessions, demonstrations, and diving practice. The practical ended with the attachment of large air bags to a submerged car and lifting it to the surface with compressed air.
The Underwater Rescue & Recovery Team is comprised of divers from Auburn, Charlton, Douglas, Dudley, Southbridge, Sturbridge and Webster while Oxford Fire-EMS provides Emergency Medical Services for the team. The team also uses Tenders who monitor tethered divers one on one. 12 members attended this training including Auburn’s Captain David Tefft, Firefighter Troy Arcouette, and Firefighter Brian Sheridan who also serves as the Training Coordinator for the Team.
In the water, a primary and a secondary diver work together. There is also a backup/safety diver in the water but away from the work area. He is called the 90% since all he has to do is put his mask on to go underwater. All divers wear dry suits, as opposed to the more common wet suits, to better keep them warm. The dry suit’s surface is very durable and helps keep the diver from getting scraped or cut around rough surfaces like metal and glass. Each diver wears a SCUBA, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, with a primary and back-up compressed air supply.
The Department of Homeland Security recently purchased two complete dive setups including dry suits for each of the towns, and two ice rescue sleds were also bought to assist with winter dives through ice.
Auburn Fire Chief Stephen Coleman said, “No one community can afford to staff, train and equip a dive team. Regional efforts are the only way to ensure that these extremely important services are available with highly trained and skilled divers. As a district, if we all share in the responsibility, it becomes manageable.”
This training was conducted by Life Guard Systems out of Shokan, New York, and the 8 communities in District 7 shared the cost. LGS trains police officers, firefighters, and military personnel in safe diving practices, and lead instructor Walt “Butch” Hendrick has been at it for 45 years. LGS has also done Rapid Deployment and Ice Diving training for District 7. Hendrick said the goal is to work efficiently with safety being a primary concern.
For this training, a car donated by LKQ of Webster was rolled into the water after on land demonstrations and practice. The engine and transmission had been removed and the vehicle was thoroughly power washed to remove any contaminants. The training was also approved by MA DEP and the Conservation Commission. There was no oil slick on the pond’s surface even after 2 days in the water.
Divers had to find the car, stabilize it, recon for victims, and then attach airbags to each side so the car could be lifted. The team went through the exercise multiple times so each role could be clearly understood and practiced. At the end of the day on Sunday, Myhaver Trucking and Towing of Oxford removed the car.