GREEN: Pete Deevers is quick to say he doesn’t dwell on any one of the dozens of dives he has made as part of Green Fire Department’s rescue and recovery team because there wasn’t one of those dives that ended well.
Deevers, a lieutenant, and at 50 the oldest man on the 20-member South Summit Dive Team, has been responding to drowning incidents with the team since joining the department in 1989. The most recent was to help recover the body of a 15-year-old Clinton boy who died in a Jackson Township boating incident early Saturday. It took divers from two counties three hours to recover Alex Campbell’s body from the murky waters of a pond in the northwest corner of the township.
South Summit members responded to the scene through a mutual-aid agreement with Jackson Township Fire Department.
“There have been no good outcomes,” Deevers said Tuesday as he and other divers on the team practiced their skills at one of four new pools at Akron General Medical Center’s Lifestyle Center in Green. The team includes firefighter/paramedics from New Franklin and Coventry.
“The snowmobilers are probably the worst,” Deevers said. Diving under ice is particularly hazardous, he said.
It will take eight days to recertify veteran divers and teach new members the ropes so they can become part of the team. They will practice three days in the clear pool waters before heading into open lake waters next week, said dive team captain Matt Craddock of the Green Fire Department.
South Summit members are an arm of the county team but work and train together as a unit. It gives them a sense of camaraderie that they depend on during the stressful and dangerous job of underwater rescue and recovery, Craddock said.
“It’s like a family with these guys. We depend on one another. And at the end of the day, you are in a really bad body of water when anything can go wrong and find a drowning victim. There is nothing fun in this,” he said.
Craddock said the worst part of the job is working while bystanders, often including a victim’s devastated family members, watch a rescue effort turn into a recovery operation as hope fades.
Teams make sure a senior diver will stay with a victim’s family and explain what is happening.
“The hardest part for family members to understand is that visibility isn’t 100 yards. When you are down in the silt, visibility can be reduced to inches, if that,” Craddock said.
Craddock, who has been diving for 17 years, said team members are required to recertify every three years, but the South Summit team practices together once a year.
Five new members were learning the ins and outs of using and wearing $7,000 worth of gear that allows them to dive in icy water, control their depth with an inflatable vest and breathe through a mask.
“This gets them used to the standard equipment we use. They have got to do baby steps to get comfortable in the water,” Craddock said.
New members also must learn how to get into scuba suits made of rubber and neoprene that cover every inch of their bodies to keep frigid and dirty water away from their skin during dives.
Green has six sets of equipment for their 10-member team, Craddock said, so not everyone is in the water at the same time.
New team members face a one-year probationary period after they pass their exams, he said.
This year, the team has responded to seven calls, a large number for any given year, Craddock said.
“We have the most bodies of water in Summit County, with Portage Lakes,” he said.
When the new 42,000-square-foot, $32 million Health & Wellness Center on the east side of Massillon Road opened, officials asked Green Fire Department for help certifying their employees in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, said Troy Clevenger, director of the AGMC’s Lifestyle Center of Green. That call led to a new partnership.
“We are fortunate we have four pools and a lot of room to do this,” Clevenger said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.