Dive team prepares for July 4 holiday, summer season
by Jessica Loeding
Jun 26, 2012 | 1576 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wendy Stephenson, left, adjusts the full dive mask worn by Ronnie Owens, center, during Bartow County dive team training last week as the head of the team, Bartow County Fire Department Capt. Rob Tanner, looks on. JESSICA LOEDING/The Daily Tribune News
Wendy Stephenson, left, adjusts the full dive mask worn by Ronnie Owens, center, during Bartow County dive team training last week as the head of the team, Bartow County Fire Department Capt. Rob Tanner, looks on. JESSICA LOEDING/The Daily Tribune News
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Bartow County Fire Department Capt. Rob Tanner, who heads up the county’s dive team, refills air tanks at BCFD station 1 following last week’s dive training ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. JESSICA LOEDING/The Daily Tribune News
Bartow County Fire Department Capt. Rob Tanner, who heads up the county’s dive team, refills air tanks at BCFD station 1 following last week’s dive training ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. JESSICA LOEDING/The Daily Tribune News
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The water at Dive Haven is clear and a balmy 82 degrees at the surface. At 20 feet -- the deepest a try SCUBA, or a person's first dive, can go -- the water is cold with limited visibility and a bottom littered with hazards. This is just a glimpse at what members of Bartow County's dive team faces during a recovery.

Last week's training session helped members prepare for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

Bartow County Fire Department Capt. Rob Tanner, who heads up the team, said the "weeklong holiday" will bring an increased chance of drownings on local waters.

"I'm looking at it as, it's not a matter of if. Unfortunately, it's going to be a matter of when because of the sheer volume of people that are going to be on the water for those seven days," he said.

Started in the early 1990s by paramedics, the all-volunteer dive team moved under the Emergency Management Agency when Director Johnny Payne took over in the late '90s.

"Most of our members are public service -- fire department, EMS, law enforcement. We do have some private members, they're recreational divers and instructors," Tanner said. "We have right now 25 members. It fluctuates from time to time, year to year."

All members must have at least a rescue diver status to work recoveries, and to oversee operations of a dive, members must be a certified master diver.

When the dive team is activated, those members available will work with law enforcement on the scene to determine what information is available. Divers will conduct interviews, get a description of the possible victim and the location they were last seen, as well as researching what hazards may be in the area.

"There are certain areas that we know are more dangerous than others. At that point, once we get a general idea of where they are at, then we will either do a shore search, like a radar pattern, sweeping pattern," Tanner said. ".... We have to figure out the depth of the water, the temperature, the hazards, the description of the person, the size -- all that plays into effect. The biggest thing is we have to make sure we all stay safe and not add to the problem."

The average dive will take less than 12 hours, according to Tanner, and will feature a minimum of six people. The deeper the water and the more hazards present at the bottom the more people the recovery requires.

"You've got the primary diver, which is the one that initiates the initial search. You've got a back-up diver, which is their safety, and then we have an overall safety diver," he said. "What we do, and each team is a little different, our primary and secondary, or back-up, diver, both of those are on com -- we have communications with them."

Communications between divers allows for information to flow freely about what obstacles are presented and what measures may be needed to aid in the recovery.

"Like in Allatoona, you are dealing with limited visibility. This holiday week we'll be lucky to have one or two [feet of visibility]. ... Then after about 30 feet, you're searching with your eyes closed. No visibility. ... It's like trying to search in a landfill with your eyes closed," Tanner said of what divers encounter.

Brenton Easley, owner of Dive Haven and member of the dive team, said the biggest hurdle divers have to overcome is themselves.

"Getting your mindset [right is huge], finding someone like that. The water dark, cold -- it plays with your mind," he said.

"Like I told you, it's one of the unfortunate evils that we have, the service that we provide is one that is not a happy one," Tanner said. "A lot of people don't understand why we don't move that fast. There's no need. There's not a rescue. We are trying to bring someone home."

Dive Haven, 781 Old Tennessee Highway in White, offers classes and certifications. For more information, visit www.divehavenga.com or call 404-281-5060.