Pelham Fire Department participates in dive training 

Pelham Fire Department conducted training for diver certification May 25-29. (Contributed)

Pelham Fire Department conducted training for diver certification May 25-29. (Contributed)

By JESSA PEASE

PELHAM—In less than one year, the number of Pelham Fire Department’s certified divers has doubled.

After diver Daren Gray went missing in a 27-acre dive quarry last October, a five-day search for his body followed. More than 20 agencies and 200 volunteers worked to locate Gray.

Although he was eventually located, Deputy Chief Blair Sides said the department recognized a need for more trained divers. That’s why the department conducted diving training May 25-29.

“It’s important for the safety of our personnel,” Sides said. “The better trained you are at performing a skill the safer it is for you, but also it helps us be more effective for the citizens.”

To receive certification from Dive Rescue International, participants start training in swimming pools and work up to diving in black water, meaning water with zero visibility.

Pelham’s fire department performed its black water training at Oak Mountain State Park where they practiced both surface and underwater rescue, earned open water certifications and received dry suit training.

Instructors also trained the divers to interview bystanders in order to find the suspected area for a drowning victim, create a dive plan and search the area in grids. Sides said there are many unique plans depending on where the victim is located.

The diver is then tethered to a rope equipped with communication technology, allowing the diver to verbalize what he can feel under the water. The team then works patterns to cover every square inch under the surface.

“Believe it or not, it’s so detailed, as far as the search, that you can even find a knife or a gun,” Sides said.  “That’s how good of an area those divers can cover and find things under water.”

Sides said they even get called out to try and recover evidence for police departments.

Training is also provided for ground crews who monitor air bubbles to calculate the amount of air the diver is consuming.

“It’s pretty neat training, and you would be amazed at how much you know about that diver without seeing him,” Sides said. “The guys, when they are doing it for real, they know what they are doing.”

Sides said the department is still working on getting technical divers to work at deeper depths than a normal certification covers, and that some people have expressed interest in that. For now, he said, they are focusing on rescue and dry suit training.