The Barry County Sheriff’s Office has new diving equipment for its Dive Team that improves safety and efficiency for the deputies using it in their duties. Deputy Steve Lehman and Lt. Pete Nevins recently demonstrated the new gear for Barry County Commissioners.
Before the new gear, communication between diver and on shore personnel was a series of different tugs on a rope tied to the diver. Now, the diver is wired for voice communication at all times with a rope still attached for backup, Lehman said. A fully-suited deputy is stationed on shore for quick response, it needed.
“Communicating is very important. “It’s reassuring for divers to hear a voice,” Nevins said. With the communication system, the diver has about 200 feet of leeway.
The more spacious outfits are light years ahead of the former simple face mask, part of a completely enclosed system that can safely be worn when gas or other chemicals are in the water.
“We are totally encapsulated from head to toe,” Lehman said. “We don’t get wet.”
Deputies are the only personnel using the equipment; nine full sets are assigned to dive team deputies, led by Sgt. Ryan Argo. An extra set is for an anticipated 10th member of the dive team.
An updated air tank, resembling turtle’s back, can be inflated or deflated by the diver and can carry extra weights for ballast. A new trailer for dive equipment means the divers can arrive on scene, snap on the mask, and go, shaving 15 minutes off the getting ready time.
They have been practicing in local lakes and in the pool at the Hastings High School. The new equipment is compatible with other counties diving gear, an asset in joint operations. It also increases their ability to be proactive in local lakes and pools, Sheriff Dar Leaf said. “It’s a huge step up for our divers during their work and also for their safety.”
One thing new equipment can’t solve is the visibility. “We sink to the bottom, so we very seldom have clear visibility,” Lehman noted. With underwater flashlights, they can see from inches to two feet. “It’s going to be black anyway, we usually go by feel,” he said.
Lehman said the old equipment let divers stay underwater about 22 minutes. Training with the new equipment, he was under for 58 minutes one time and 41 minute another. It also depends on the depth of the water the diver is working in.
The cost for the upgrade was $5,200, with the sheriff’s office paying half, a grant from the Federal Emergency Management’s Fifth District.