Slippery weather conditions, rescue teams practice ice diving

RAPID CITY, SD (KOTA) — On Thursday, groups including the Rapid City Fire Department gathered at Pactola Reservoir to practice and prepare for possible rescue scenarios when the reservoir freezes over.

Thick ice sometimes isn’t thick enough to keep things from falling.

“Last year, the water rescue team had 18 calls,” explains Eric Hansen, water rescue team leader.

Harsh, unnatural and inconvenient conditions make practice a priority, “because you never know what you’re going to run into when you’re underwater,” says scuba diver Matthew. Obstacles like fishing line and nets, “which might be out there that we can’t see.” Get tangled up, and you rely on what you bring with you ahead of time, which is why they “carry two knives on them”. [their] nobody just to cut [them]be free.

The stray string and line, however, aren’t the only things that need to be cut, as they drill out a ten-by-ten triangle for an entry point. A second hole is also cut out to exit if needed.

“Anyone would be nervous to dive into that,” Matthew says. This is when relying on training and experience pays off.

Diving in the ice adds additional danger, according to Hansen, “any water rescue is kind of a low frequency high risk.”

Ice adds an element of risk. Not just for the divers below, but to get there in the first place, as Hansen explains “it’s hard to get the equipment out if we’re dealing with dangerous ice conditions.

Necessary equipment that is operated by many hands on deck.

“What we’re trying to achieve here is good teamwork,” says Hansen, “and being comfortable in this environment.”

That way, when real-world consequences are at stake, they’re ready.

“One of the big things we do is a lost diver exercise,” says Hansen, where crews take turns participating in each role.

“We have guys on the surface who run the lines and communicate with the divers,” says Matt Curley, the team’s underground manager.

Communication which, according to Curley, can be done wirelessly. If that fails, the rope pull patterns also send messages, “and then we all take turns in the water and do the dive operation as well.”

Curley says it’s an effort to ensure divers are protected from injury, “whether they run out of air or get lost.” Prioritize their safety, “and then public safety as well.”

Although, a very serious training, water rescues offer something the land could never offer.

“You experience a lot of things that not everyone gets to experience,” says Matthew. Sure, you might see an underwater reef on TV, “but it’s a whole other thing to experience it for yourself.”

Copyright 2022 KOTA. All rights reserved.

Comments are closed.