Deep Water Duty
August 30, 2006
Wednesday was just another day for Oscar the Incredible Drowning Dummy.For members of the Placer County Dive Rescue Team, however, it was a day to test their mettle in Lake Tahoes choppy water. Geared up in a seven millimeter thick wetsuits, buoyancy compensation devices, air tanks and face masks complete with radios, the divers practiced searching for and recovering Oscar in less than 20 feet of visibility.Since North Tahoe and Truckee are blessed with lakes and rivers, the dive team is trained in SCUBA and swift water rescue. Their main responsibilities include search and rescues, evidence collection, vehicle, vessel and, as in Oscars case, victim recoveries.Its a startling thing to find a human form at the bottom for the first time, said Placer County sheriffs Sgt. Dave Cutting. Especially when you come face to face with him.Cutting leads his North Tahoe team of five deputies and two civilians out of Carnelian Bay, where the deputies serve as both regular patrolmen and dive and rescue specialists.They train, Cutting said, for anything under the water, including finding Oscar. Cutting threw the dummy, 160-plus pounds when wet, overboard a few days before the training session. On Wednesday, a boat towed diver Deputy Mike Powers back and forth in the water until he spotted Oscar. Powers marked Oscars precise location, where another diver then assisted with recovery.Next month the dive and rescue team will deep-water dive off the 800 to 900-foot seacliffs near the D.L. Bliss State Park public beach. More than a decade ago, two firefighters were diving in the area and went missing. The team hopes to discover the bodies, Cutting said.
Underwater life encompasses interesting and often dangerous duties. The dive team can be called out to salvage airplanes, boats and cars for evidence recovery and for rescues. They are summoned to incidents like submerged runaway cars to suicide victims to ice skating accidents. The team can be called out anywhere in Placer County, but generally work on Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake, as well as surrounding reservoirs, rivers, creeks and even golf course ponds.In order to be part of the dive team it is necessary to already have serious underwater interest and experience, Cutting said.We prefer divers who want to be on the dive team, not deputies who want to be divers, he said.All five of the deputies previously received their open water certification, and the volunteers have extensive professional experience. These standards exist, said Cutting, because there is too much material to cover like learning search patterns, dark water dives and ice rescue practice in 12 yearly training sessions. Without prior experience, even recreationally, he could not adequately train the deputies.Its not going down to look at pretty fishes, Cutting said. Its work.Deputy John Shelton has been diving for seven years and has experienced life under the sea in all parts of the world. Though diving around Catalina Island is his favorite, he likes his work around Tahoe and Truckee.Diving [with the rescue team] gives me a chance to get out of the patrol car and to have different interactions with the public, Shelton said. Were out here on the water trying to help people.