By VICKI BROWN
Not only did Colleton Fire-Rescue’s dive team received extensive training last week in a swimming pool, they also have acquired new equipment to help Colleton residents.
Last year divers began using the “buddy phone,” which allows divers to talk to each other underwater and to speak to crew members above water.
But other equipment is more than 10 years old, so almost all of the divers’ equipment has been updated.
One addition to the new equipment is scuba regulators.
These computers have the ability to track how long the divers are submerged and how deep they actually go.
According to Colleton County Fire-Rescue’s Dive Instructor Brent Dalton, this new computer helps to greatly reduce the chances of the diver surpassing their no-decompression limit.
A no-decompression limit (NDL) is a time limit for the amount of time a diver can stay at a given depth.
No-decompression limits vary from dive to dive, depending upon depth. A diver who stays underwater longer than the no-decompression limit for his dive cannot swim directly to the surface but must stop periodically on the way up to avoid decompression sickness.
“We also added ‘pony bottles’ to our equipment inventory,” said Dalton. “These are smaller scuba cylinders with their own independent regulators and are a separate air source which is to be used if there is an emergency with the primary air source.
“The cylinders give divers enough air to reach the surface safely. The tanks are attached to the traditional scuba unit and worn during the entire dive,” he said.
Dalton says that in the future the team is looking to add dry suits to their inventory which will allow divers to dive in much colder water temperatures reducing the potential for hypothermia.
He also says that although the team currently still has only one boat, they are currently planning to add additional boats through grant funds this fiscal year.
In coordination with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, fire-rescue divers can staff and operate a FEMA Type 2 Water Rescue team. Between full time, part time and volunteer members, Fire-Rescue currently has 30 personnel who are dive-certified.
Why do we need divers?
Colleton County has several hundred square miles of water within its borders.
These include three main rivers the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto and all of their associate tributaries as well as a large section of the St. Helena sound.
Dalton says that all this water brings a lot of people and boaters looking to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. This occasionally results in emergencies whether it’s a lost/ stranded boater, tubers trapped in current on the Edisto or missing swimmers.
The first emergency calls are to the dive team which must be able to respond and give aid however it’s needed.
“We are more than just a “dive” team, we are actually a water rescue team with the ability to respond to most water rescue scenarios while working in cooperation with other agencies in the area,” Dalton said.
Another improvement to the level of training for the dive team, is that Dalton received his Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water Scuba Instructor certification. This allows him to move all of his diver certification training in house instead of relying on outside instructors.
This training to personnel can be completed at a significant cost reduction to the department.
“We are now able to certify divers all the way from the basic Open Water Diver certification to the level of Dive Master which is the first level in what PADI considers the Professional level,” said Dalton. “We are also able to certify our divers in the use of certain equipment such as our full-face masks. In addition, we can give them more in-depth training in things such as underwater navigation, search and recovery and night diving.”