Fire Department Divers Practice Skills at Cricket Creek

The Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) District 12 members chose Cricket Creek in Addison for their diver drills training. Members of the Addison, Oak Brook, Winfield and Glen Ellyn Fire Departments brought specialized diving gear to Addison to practice search and retrieval skills underwater. Fire Department divers are often needed when an item is submerged under water and must be brought to the surface. The skills of the divers allow law enforcement to local victims, weapons and other items submerged or on the bottom of a water system. Safety was prominent throughout the drill as four divers entered the water to locate items placed on the bottom by Addison Fire Department Lieutenant - Dave Dinelli.

Lieutenant Dinelli hosted the drill on behalf of the MABAS District 12 group of Fire Departments that include nineteen communities in DuPage County. The specialized diver teams provide the skills to recover items in lakes, ponds, streams and rivers throughout the area. Equipped with underwater sonar, acoustic communications equipment and custom designed diver’s equipment the divers discussed how to safely retrieve items submerged under water. In many communities, Fire Department divers are the only persons trained in locating and collecting objects in water.

Before any diver entered the Cricket Creek ponds, several safety measures were put in place. Each diver wore a dry suit and methodically assembled the weights and monitoring gear for a safe dive. The weights allow the divers to more easily submerge under water and the monitoring gear helps keep track of their air supply, their direction when swimming in murky waters and communications with a dive team on the shore.

The divers had built into their dive masks special underwater acoustic microphones and speakers so they could use the water itself as a medium to send and receive sound of voices. The divers were also tethered with a rope to a person on the shore. The person on shore was responsible for the status of the diver they were linked to. A preset coded system of commands allows them to communicate with the shoreline by tugging on the rope a preset number of times.

During the drill, one diver was submerged while another diver ready to dive stood at the edge of the water. On a moments notice the second diver could enter the water should the first diver become incapable of coming to the surface. Another level of safety was the presence of two paramedics within 15 feet of the waters edge. The paramedics were on standby should any diver need medical assistance.

The divers practiced how to search the shoreline under water, evidence collections procedures, sonar operations and a Jack Stay search method. Jack Stay searches involve a patterned search underwater using two divers and a rope. Divers swim with one hand on the rope in opposite directions or together in parallel. When they reach the ends of the rope, they move the rope several feet and search an adjacent line along the bottom.

Divers also practiced the use of a pelican float. The pelican float is a metal weight connected by a rope to a bright yellow plastic float. This device is used sometimes to signal the location of a diver in distress, however the pelican float in this drill was used to mark the location of an object found underwater. By using a surveyor like GPS device called the “total system” an exact location of where an item is found can be recorded easily. Then the item is collected in a container that also collects the water it was in before being brought to the surface and turned over to law enforcement.

Fire department divers may be called upon to locate bodies, weapons used in a crime, items of evidence thrown into a water system or any number of unique situations. Their training and practice drills help experienced divers share the knowledge they have learned with others in many communities in our area.
A special program is being produced from this dive training drill and will be played on local cable television and streamed on the Internet in July. Check the web site for more information.

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