On a bright and brisk Sunday morning–registering a crisp 7°F–an unlikely collection of individuals stripped down to their swim suits and got ready to spend 5 hours proving they can swim. Those individuals are the area volunteers that make up the Columbia County Rescue Dive Team.
The all-volunteer dive team–possibly the only one in the state–works in association with the International Association of Dive Rescue Specialists (IADRS) to maintain their training and certifications. This past Sunday was part of that. All members must take the “Watermanship Test” each year. This test gauges the members’ ability in basic swimming skills. The test includes a 500-yard free swim, a 15-minute treading water (the last two minutes with arms raised), an 800-yard snorkle swim, a 100-yard “tired diver” rescue tow, and a 9-foot free dive and retrieval.
The watermanship is done in December of each year in a swimming pool; it’s December in Wisconsin, and swimming in open water isn’t a real option. This year was the first time that the team has using the Lodi High School pool–the use of which was donated by the school as part of their on-going community outreach.
A Mixed Bag
Unlike most–if not all–other dive teams in the state, the Columbia County team is comprised entirely of volunteers. Some come from law support–including Lodi’s own Chief Wayne Smith–while others are regular citizens who feel a draw to help. The members come from all over the county–including the father-daughter team of Doug and Amanda Attoe from here in Lodi–and respond to calls not only in Columbia county, but neighboring ones if the need arises.
Founded in 1996 by Sheriff Steven Rowe, the team includes men and women ranging in age from 19 to 56. Not all of those are divers, however. Several of the members provide essential “shore support”, led by Woody (the oldest member of the team at 56). This includes assisting divers with their gear, be ready in case of diver troubles, and tending the lines.
“Line tenders” are the guides of the search. This role is especially important in this area, as almost all open water in the county is what’s called “black water”1Not to be confused with nighttime dives in tropical waters which are called “blackwater dives”.–With the exception of Devil’s Lake, the area rivers and lakes are colored by plant materials, silt, and other particulates which make it difficult for divers to see.
While under water, divers are on a “line”. On the other end of that line is a “tender”. The line provides a critical connection for communication–a series of tugs that allow for basic messages to be passed between the diver and the tender. In addition to maintaining that communication, the tender uses the line to guide the diver through various search patterns.
Volunteer but Professional
While the team may be comprised of volunteers, their training is strictly professional. All divers have passed their basic open-water certification, their advanced open-water certification, and certifications for rescue, search and recovery, and dry suit. The basic open-water certification is up to the individual to acquire, but the team assists with the training and testing of the later certifications.
The last certification on the list–dry suit–will become more important, as the team is moving towards a full-time dry-suit protocol. Unlike wet-suits (which allow water to pass through, getting the diver wet), dry-suits offer full protection against not only the water, but whatever the divers may come into contact with during their searches. The team is also looking to move away from traditional mouth-held regulators and masks to full-head communication helmets. This will allow divers to speak directly to shore support. It will also require another level of certification.
The divers will spend another day in January doing advanced skills testing, followed by their annual ice dive in February.
A Lodi native, Blaze attended the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay where he graduated with a degree in theatre technology & design. He has traveled extensively throughout the United States and the world–including a 6-year stint in China. He has been a teacher, a writer, a designer, and is the founder of the Redleaf Consulting Group.
|↑1||Not to be confused with nighttime dives in tropical waters which are called “blackwater dives”.|