September 15, 2023 at 11:30 a.m.
County dive team is a cooperative gem
In Chisago County an underwater emergency will trigger the call-out of a hybrid group. They hail from a number of area fire departments and are all first responders, who have seen a need for their skills. With the support of their departments, they’ve built their own Unit. The Dive Team goes out on frozen waters, in fast-moving rivers and even water filled ditches. When an underwater submersible vessel failure that proved fatal, shook the world recently; you can bet there local dive team members had more than a passing interest in that turn of events. Chisago County Dive Team members agonized with what searchers were going through responding to that ill fated, heart-stopping excursion to view the Titanic
Lakes and rivers here certainly present nowhere near the depth and pressure of the North Atlantic; but local dive team participants have seen their share of frantic underwater scenes.
Dive veteran Dan Hoffman, with Stacy-Lent Fire Department, is one of the early organizers of responders in 2009.
He said there is demand for water rescue and recovery operations in this area. There are rivers, many lakes and even deep ponds and filled ditches to generate dive team calls. If a victim is inaccessible and in just about any depth of water the team gets a call.
Members respond to surrounding counties as well.
The team will also help locate items. They have gone under the ice and into open water and located snowmobiles, lengths of dock, a deceased pet dog, and jewelry.
In the same way underwater search and rescue has evolved— the county dive team has consciously morphed itself into almost an independent service. The county sheriff remains the lead responsible agency by law, for providing water related response. The dive team lead is Stacy-Lent Fir. Sheriff Thyen remarked that it is very beneficial to have such an enthusiastic and skilled team to rely on for underwater emergencies, as this area is known for its bodies of water.
Chisago City firefighter Jeff Dowd has been a coastal lifeguard in California and is coaching dive team members. He loves being able to serve the community and swim while doing it. For fun he says he has a trip planned to a deep quarry in Missouri to do what else—dive. There are four total Chisago City firefighters on the dive team.
That’s the common denominator that brings the dive team together, a love and respect for being in the water.
Shawn Bengtson, Stacy-Lent firefighter, commented that the organization has gelled really well and he’s proud to say that recent call-outs show the training is paying off. It is a bittersweet feeling when you have to be dispatched to retrieve what is probably a beloved member of a grieving family, or spouse or parent, but when the team is successful it is all worth it.
The 12 or 15 dive team members have put months into training together and mentoring each other and building teamwork, which must be instinctual in an emergency. Four fire departments have contributed dive team members: Shafer, Almelund, Chisago City and Stacy-Lent and they work with Taylors Falls for emergencies on the St Croix usually.
They all raise their own money for team needs, so when you see a pancake breakfast or meat raffle or bingo night, rest assured the money will be put to good use.
Each department may have its own Standard Operating Procedure but the dive team has learned to blend department handbooks and has allocated responsibilities for equipment. Stacy-Lent is the team primary base, however.
Some dive team members prefer not to go under the surface and they handle providing shore support or ropes or any number of secondary needs.
This summer brought a great addition to the organization, a submersible Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) that Stacy-Lent Fire acquired. It is one of very few underwater capable drones in the state. (See photo). The DeepTrekker will be able to go underwater at a scene ahead of divers who might not have to put themselves at risk, explained Larry Granberg, Stacy-Lent.