Underwater rescue – Local class offered for police, firefighters

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

With an abundance of quarries, ponds and lakes, Shelby County police and firefighters must train for underwater recoveries and rescues.

Calera Fire Marshall Hilton Shirey helped stage a training session at Blue Water in Pelham, a scuba facility built in an old rock quarry. Shirey said the exercise helped train firefighters and other emergency personnel on techniques involved in hazardous materials and underwater explosion situations, among others.

Underwater recoveries are common for Calera, Shirey said. The training conducted for underwater recoveries and rescues prepares officers for such situations. As the designated dive team for the county, Calera trains officers on a variety of techniques each year.

Shirey said the city has conducted dives all over the county, including Lay Lake and all quarries. Sometimes they recover cars and equipment. Sometimes they recover bodies.

Clint Barnett of the Calera Police Department took part in the training exercise at Blue Water. He leads dive teams for the city and recalled a recovery dive following an industrial accident at Vulcan Materials in 1999. A truck backed into a quarry, and he said that incident got the city started with the training and dive programs.

Last year, the Calera dive team recovered about 10 cars from a quarry along the Shelby and Bibb county line.

Divers train for night dives, since Barnett said that’s usually when the calls come in.

For safety reasons, Calera police recently bought a remote operated video camera to send underwater ahead of divers. The city also recently bought a trailer with sonar capabilities.

&uot;This way we can inspect crime scenes and record it top-side,&uot; Barnett said.

On a recent afternoon, about a dozen firefighters from Calera and other departments dropped beneath the blue-green surface in the old quarry at Blue Water. Partners linked up to divers communicated via radio and trails of bubbles tracked the divers as they moved through the clear water.

Kurt Bozenhardt of Dive Rescue International taught the course. He travels across the country teaching police and firefighters dive techniques.

According to Bozenhardt, his work training public safety divers is far different from recreational diving.

&uot;We don’t choose what we dive or where,&uot; he said. &uot;Ninety percent of it is in black water or very poor visibility. There’s much higher stress.&uot;

On this day, the class focused on surface-supplied air and hazmat diving.

With air supplies located above water, fed to divers by tubes, Bozenhardt said the length of a dive is indefinite. The radio communication is a vital part of such dives, he said.

&uot;You can stay down almost indefinitely, but you’ve got to have communications at the surface,&uot; he said.

With quarry dives, Barnett said it’s usually just cold and deep. With limited visibility in the dark waters, he said equipment entanglements are a major problem.

&uot;You have to go by feel,&uot; he said