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Columbia County Dive Team Does Black Water Training

Last weekend, the Columbia County Rescue Dive Team participated in a 3-day training course that ended with a “black water” session at Silver Lake in Portage.  The class was lead by Lt. Scott Huff from Indianapolis, and included divers from LaCrosse and Sturgeon Bay.

Huff, a full-time rescue diver with the Indianapolis Fire Department, is also a trainer from Dive Rescue International out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  The 3-day course being taught last weekend certifies the Columbia County divers as “Dive Rescue Specialists”.

Lt. Huff explains the training:

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team performed hands on skillsets both in and out of the water at Silver Lake Beach to advance their knowledge of Drowning Facts and Prevention, Team Organization and Management, Search Patterns, Scene Evaluation, Victim Retrieval, Service to Family and Media, Vehicle Accidents underwater and Underwater Investigations.

While the first two days were conducted in the pool–where the instructor can see everything and critique the actions of the divers, the final day took place in what’s known as “black water” diving.  Almost all water in the Columbia County qualifies as “black water”–meaning that after a few feet, the sun no longer penetrates the water, and the divers are operating “blind”.  The divers are connected to Tenders on the shore (or boat) by a rope.  That rope is their only means of communication.  A series of tugs, from one to four, from either end of the rope passes along the very limited set of messages.  Those signals not only guide the diver in their search, but signal a found object or that the diver needs assistance.

The dive team is in the process of purchasing new full-face dive masks that include radio communication.  This will allow a much more detailed communication to take place.  The ropes, however, will remain as they are essential to the divers’ safety.  If, for instance, a diver is in trouble and the “safety” diver needs to assist them, the rope leads directly to the diver in trouble–no need to search for them, too.

Rescue and recovery teams operate with 3 divers–primary, safety, and ready (or 90%)–each with their own tender.  The safety is fully prepared to dive in case the primary diver needs assistance, and the “90%” is suited up, and only needs a short time to be fully ready.   Divers are rotated out after a set amount of time, making sure that they have enough air to make a safe return.

The 17-member team assists police, fire, and EMT organizations throughout the entire county, all year long–including rescue and recovery operations under the ice.

The Columbia County Dive Team is an entirely volunteer organization which is funded through the county’s public safety budget and openly seeks donations to improve SCUBA gear and equipment to keep their divers safe and efficient.  Rather than donating to the giving to the Police Benevolent Societies that call asking for money, Police Chief Wayne Smith suggests donating to the dive team, knowing that you money is going to help save your neighbors’ lives.

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