When emergencies underwater occur, Warwick’s diving team plunges into an unknown abyss prepared for rescue. Conditions sometimes limit seeing beyond two or three feet while sometimes deep and below ice.
Now thanks to Ocean State Charities Trust, the Warwick Fire Department’s dive team will be better equipped to respond to underwater rescues.
The trust selected the Heart Safe Foundation as the pass-through organization, to give the department $5,000 to replace some of the dive team’s 18-year-old equipment.
Warwick is the only Rhode Island municipality to have a certified active dive team that will respond at a moment’s notice to places across the state. Last year, the team responded to six calls, including one in Central Falls.
“It’s low occurrence but high-risk rescues,” says Assistant Chief James McLaughlin. “Our members are always prepared to go.” If the divers aren’t at the station, their equipment is with them and would respond immediately, he said.
Dr. Joseph Spinale, president of Kent Hospital’s Heart Safe Foundation, who presented the grant to the Fire Department Tuesday morning, said the dive team’s work fits right into the foundation’s mission. Heart Safe was established in 2006 to promote public awareness of automated external defibrillators, which are now carried in police cruisers and can be found in public locations and assist in CPR training.
McLaughlin said the dive team was formed after the death of 7-year-old Christopher Martini, who fell through the ice on Spring Green Pond along with his brother and friend in December 1995, and the drowning death of Mary Preston, 29, also that year.
The team started with modest means, as Battalion Chief James Kenney recalls. He was one of the original team that used their own equipment and started training for emergency dives. The team didn’t have drysuits, as they do now, but wetsuits that can be cold when diving in icy waters.
“We used to fill them with hot water,” said Kenney.
One of the first pieces of equipment the team received was an ice rescue sled. Over the years the department has added additional pieces of equipment. On average it costs $3,000 to outfit a diver, and says Lt. Thomas Brady, the department is looking to outfit a team of 15. That’s going to be that much easier thanks to the Ocean State Charities Trust.
Jane Lynch, trust executive director, said the trust gives to organizations or establishments that are deserving. In the case of the Warwick award, the fact that the team responds to emergencies throughout the state was a major consideration.
“I’m hoping we were able to make a difference,” said Lynch.
Brady said the department was able to buy four new masks and four new buoyancy compensator devices that help with releasing air while ascending in the water.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said this was the next project on his list and said that there will be many more.
“The bay is a natural asset for Warwick,” said Avedisian. “And as technology changes, we need to keep up with it.” He said he was certain the equipment would be well used.
Dive equipment has advanced, and in the future the team hopes to purchase underwater wireless communication devices to attach to the masks. This would eliminate the communicating by tugging on a rope system and enable the communication with those on shore. Brady said each unit cost around $800.
“Our guys dive into deep, cold and dark water,” said Brady. He said diving in Rhode Island’s waters is much different than diving in clear water diving conditions where divers have better visibility.
The team has 15 active divers, three of which are needed at each scene: a primary, a secondary and a safety diver. The department is looking to increase their members for next year. Brady is the instructor for incoming trainees who need to complete the department’s standard of six dives a year for certification.
“We qualified for the grant because it’s not just for us,” said Brady.
They will continue to assist cities in need of diving rescues.