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Michael McLemore

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


 

Public Safety Dive Team

Everybody knows the Sugar Land Fire Department responds to fires, vehicle accidents and medical emergencies, but did you know the Fire Department has a “Public Safety Dive Team?” The team works in cooperation with the Sugar Land Police Department and the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department. Currently, team members include 15 firefighters and five police officers. During the last decade, the team has responded to water-related accidents, helped stranded boaters, recovered stolen evidence, removed vehicles from various waterways and provided a safety team for special boating events.

The term “Public Safety Diving” is a generic term used to describe the underwater operations conducted by fire and police along with volunteer search/rescue teams. In comparison to recreational divers, Public Safety Divers (PSDs) are quite different. Unlike the recreational diver who can plan the day, location and time he/she wants to dive, PSDs must respond in a moment’s notice -- day or night. In southeast Texas, the majority of rivers and lakes are known as “blackwater” environments, meaning an almost total lack of visibility. In addition to visibility challenges, divers must contend with the possibility of dangerous aquatic life such as snakes and alligators, as well as the possibility of entanglement. To deal with these challenges, PSD training goes far beyond the average S.C.U.B.A. diving class. PSD training includes proper search patterns, recognition of water hazards, operations under zero-visibility conditions, self rescue techniques to address entanglement and proper evidence recovery. Because of the conditions found in Fort Bend and surrounding counties, our divers are equipped with high quality diving gear that often includes full face masks with radio communications, heavy duty wet or dry suits, Kevlar gloves, boots and unique cutting tools. In addition to the specialized equipment and training, the diver is required to maintain a very high level of swim fitness.

Firefighters are natural candidates for PSDs because the dive equipment is very similar to the gear worn during firefighting. They are also accustomed to working under little to no visibility and wearing full facemasks with breathing apparatus. Law enforcement officers also do well as PSDs because some of the situations that call for divers are also considered to be crime scenes. In these events, their extensive training in evidence handling, preservation of evidence and the chain of command come in to play.

You should not be surprised to see the team conducting training in a lake in your subdivision. The team has been working on increasing its capability to include urban flood response. These training exercises help the divers become familiar with the area and provide a relatively safe training environment. Though many do not want to think about it, there may be a time when someone you know may be in need of our dive team. The good news is the team is available in Sugar Land and ready to help!

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This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.

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