By Leah Sander
WARSAW — With all of the lakes in Kosciusko County, drowning is a real possibility.
“Because we have over a hundred natural bodies of water in our county – that doesn’t include retention ponds that have been dug, farm ponds that have been dug – the potential for a water emergency is astronomical in the county,” said Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory Lt. Drew Shilling.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we don’t have a lot, but because public safety diving is one of the most dangerous things we can do as first responders just cause the margin for error is very slim, I mean if you mess up, you’re in trouble, so that’s why we train,” he said.
Part of that training occurred on Sunday, Aug. 8, at Center Lake. Firefighters took part in running through the simulation of a water rescue in the lake by the Nye Youth Cabin on Buffalo Street.
The training was the culmination of the three-day Dive Rescue 1 class that WWFT hosted for its own department and other departments. Along with a few WWFT firefighters, there were ones taking part Sunday from other states, including New York and Michigan.
Firefighters performed different roles in the exercise. They had to interview two “witnesses,” played by volunteers with WWFT, who saw a drowning in the lake.
A few firefighters donned diving gear and headed into the lake where they believed the victim to be. They were assisted on the shoreline by colleagues who communicated with them and held onto them via lines.
The divers then pulled the “victim,” a child-sized dummy from the lake, and brought it to shore.
The group completed the task in about 16 minutes.
The class is one of four that WWFT is offering in 2021, with the others being Drysuit Diving, Current Diving and Critical Skills Diving, Shilling said.
He said all WWFT firefighters must take the Dive Rescue 1 class. They also must brush up on diving techniques every three years.
For the course, firefighters also spent time in a classroom setting at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds and did training in the Warsaw Community High School pool and at Shadow Lakes housing addition.
The class is put on by Dive Rescue International. Instructor Jerry Richert, dive team commander with the Indianapolis Fire Department, led it.
Firefighter Josh Militello was one of the divers in Sunday’s scenario.
He serves with the Getzville Fire Co. in Amherst, N.Y., near Buffalo. The fire department is located near the Niagara River, Erie Canal and other bodies of water.
He actually took the class to refresh the skills he learned when he took it originally four years ago.
The class has “really great basic search pattern techniques, things that we can apply in our department,” he said. “We have half a dozen divers, so myself and (another firefighter at the class) we’ll go back and train with the other divers, show them the stuff we’ve learned and incorporate them into our drills to help better our team.”