The Dayton Rescue Dive team? A dissection of arguments

Rescue dive teams are something I know a bit about. I was part of a volunteer one in Augusta,  Ga., while serving in the Army. The DDN article points out that volunteer rescue dive teams outnumber municipal ones across the country, and locally, Box 21 at one time served that function.

Now that someone has died, we’re pointing fingers, and it’s not pretty:

In the mid-1980s, the Dayton Fire Department tapped its first dive rescue team, a group including current assistant chief Michael Caudill that trained for underwater rescue. By the early 2000s, the team was averaging a dozen or fewer calls per year, and many of those involved standing by while others investigated, Caudill said.

With 30 to 35 trained personnel at an estimated cost of $10,000 per year, the team was disbanded in January 2003….

The lack of such a team was highlighted Tuesday, March 3, when 61-year-old Coby Copeland died after her PT Cruiser crashed through an on-ramp guardrail and slid into an icy pond between U.S. 35 East and Gettysburg Avenue. The 95-minute rescue could have taken as little as 20 minutes if a dive team were available, fire officials said…

Mike Fasnacht, president of the Dayton firefighters union, lamented cuts in several areas, including general personnel and the hazardous materials team.

“Unfortunately, the city leaders of Dayton haven’t recognized that a balanced budget will not provide safety to citizens that experience fire and medical emergencies,” Fasnacht said. “The city gambles with the lives of citizens on a daily basis hoping there isn’t an issue like the one that happened last night.”

Many have since asked: Does Dayton need its own dive team?

“My personal opinion is yes, due to the bodies of water and people around them who would call them for help,” said Paul Brown, dive master for the Piqua fire dive team. “Unfortunately, it happened the other way around last night.”

Dayton fire officials spent Wednesday attempting to find a municipality closer than Piqua with a dive team for response to future incidents. But, one does not exist in Montgomery County, said Jeff Jordan, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Nationally, more volunteer dive teams exist than professional ones, said Shane Weinreis, dive officer for U.S. Water Rescue, an organization that works to train and advise dive teams across the country.

“Many agencies look at the number of past incidents to see if they can justify a team,” Weinreis said. “That’s not a good way to look at it. What if tomorrow there’s a jetliner that crashes into a pond?”

via City cut dive team in ’03.

The reality is, water runs through our entire county- and this would be an ideal service to be provided at a countywide level, much like dispatch. Why wasn’t a contingency plan put in place when the team was disbanded?

That rescue time could have been cut to as little as 20 minutes if the department still had a dive team, fire officials said. Instead, officials contacted the volunteer Box 21, whose dive group was not available, and then the Piqua Fire Department, whose team was not used because Copeland’s PT Cruiser was recovered before it arrived…

“It’s very frustrating,” District Chief Mark Whisman told reporters Tuesday night, “you’ll have to talk to the politicians on that.”

The city’s dive team was disbanded in January 2003.

City of Dayton spokesman Tom Biedenharn referred questions to Assistant Fire Chief Michael Caudill.

Shrinking budgets and other outside factors have caused many municipalities across the country, including Dayton, to stop equipping and training personnel to serve as underwater rescuers. Because such dive teams are expensive and generally used relatively little, they are often high on the list of possible cuts, local and national officials said.

“We try to provide the most appropriate resources that we can with our budget and our limitations,” Caudill said.

via Did lack of divers slow rescue attempt?.

Apparently, Box 21 was an option- because they were called. Could the County have funded the volunteer team? Would members of the old DFD team be allowed to dive as volunteers? Is this about saving lives or is it about union work rules and contract negotiations? Getting certified as a rescue diver is just one of the advanced certifications available to divers who take the sport seriously. With a large dive community in Dayton (WSU was once a center of excellence for SCUBA instruction) I’m sure there are ways to make sure our community has a resource locally.

Before we blame politicians for the lack of an available team, let’s be realistic and say that it’s a problem for all of the region and how do we solve it, in a cost effective manner? Pointing fingers after the fact doesn’t cut it.

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