Firefighters complete rescue diver tech training program
Cape Coral firefighter Jason Polar and engineer Amanda Brashear crawled along the bottom of the lake in a synchronized pattern, one arm sweeping in front of them searching, the other gripping a cord that trailed to the bank.
At the lake’s edge, firefighter James Stathopoulos directed the two divers left and right, right and left, as firefighter Jean Etcheverry oversaw it all.
A woman had called in the report: a loud noise, followed by a splash.
The team knew what it might find – a submerged vehicle, maybe victims.
It was one of two mock scenarios that more than a dozen firefighters had to complete this week to finish the rescue diver technician training program.
The two-week training program wrapped up Wednesday and Thursday at Crystal Lake in the northwest Cape, a test of the skills and techniques the firefighters learned during class instruction and a series of pool sessions.
“Today is kind of a culmination of the last two weeks of training,” Lt. Tim Clarke, a dive field training officer with the Cape fire department, said.
Planted in the lake was a “vehicle” made out of PVC pipes that the teams were expected to locate. They also encountered plastic bottles in the water, weighed down to float at various heights, which had to be radioed to shore.
“Right now we just want them swimming the search pattern,” Clarke said of scenario one. “We’re actually making sure they’re doing a proper search.”
A training officer swam above, making sure the duo stayed on the bottom.
“Whatever we’re looking for is going to be on the bottom,” Clarke said.
“You don’t always find someone who went into a canal in the car,” he added.
In the second scenario, a “witness” reports that he was fishing when a child rode up on a Big Wheel and jumped into the lake to swim. The child then went underwater and did not resurface. The man could not swim and called police.
A child-sized mannequin, weighted down in the lake, plays the “victim.”
During the exercises, each firefighter plays a different role on their team.
“Each one of them has to go through the roles of each station,” Clarke said.
According to Etcheverry, the training readies him to lead a rescue effort.
“I think it’s going to help me mentally better prepare myself before I get to the scene,” he said, adding that experience is a concern during training.
“We all feel we want to do the best we can,” Etcheverry said.
He explained that the training goes over equipment to techniques.
“I think it’s great experience,” Etcheverry said. “You know what’s expected of each position, and it’s all about executing it.”
Clarke said the training officers like to throw some wrenches into the mock scenarios, like having a diver run out of air or having one entangled or lost.
“Things that can happen under the water,” he said.
According to available statistics, the CCFD responded to 92 marine-related calls in 2009. Forty-six calls were water rescues or dive recoveries, 21 calls were for a vehicle in a canal, and 14 calls were for a near drowning incident.
Six calls were for a drowning, and five calls dealt with a boat fire.
The department currently has 48 rescue diver technicians.
The advanced classification uses dry suits and underwater communication.
The divers commonly work in zero-visibility situations, like vehicles in canals, submerged vehicle searches and drowning victim searches, adult and youth.