Slippery weather conditions, rescue teams practice diving under the ice

Ice diving
Ice diving(Jeffrey Lindblom)
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 5:34 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - 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 is not thick enough to stop things from falling in.

“Last year the water rescue team had 18 callouts,” says Eric Hansen, the Team Lead of Water Rescue.

Difficult, unnatural and inconvenient conditions make practice a priority, “ because we never know what we’re going to run into when we’re down under the water,” says Matthew, a diver. Obstacles like fishing line and nets, “that could 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 [their] person just to cut [them]selves free.”

Stray rope and line, however, isn’t the only thing that needs cutting, because they drill ten by ten triangle for an entry point. A second hole is also cut to exit through if and when need be.

“Anyone would get nervous diving in this,” says Matthew. That’s when relying on training and experience pays off.

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

Ice adds an element of riskiness. Not only for the divers beneath it, but getting there in the first place, because Hansen explains “it’s difficult to get equipment out to if we’re dealing with unsafe ice conditions.”

Necessary equipment that is operated by many hands on deck.

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

That way, when real world consequences are on the line they’re ready.

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

“We have guys on the surface that are tending lines and doing communications with the divers,” says Matt Curley, Subsurface Manager on the team.

Communication that Curley says can be done wirelessly. If that fails, tugging patterns on the rope send messages too, “and then we all take turns going in the water and doing the dive op as well.”

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

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

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

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