Members of the South Charleston Fire Department reached new heights in training at new depths recently.
On Sept. 4, eight of the SCFD firefighters traveled to Ridgewood Pool in South Charleston for their latest periodic session of dive training they undergo, underwater, to prepare for potential aquatic rescues.
“We try out to get out to a pool every three months,” SCFD Lt. Charlie Wilson said of the simulated rescue training. “As firefighters, we do rescue diving, mainly, which usually means looking for a car or a body in the water.
“There are some techniques we work on at the pool, as far as searching,” Wilson said. “It’s an opportunity for some guys who are a little bit new with the department who have their diving certifications but have never done diving while wearing a drysuit.”
Wilson explained that the drysuits are worn primarily in the winter to counter cold water temperatures during their rescue calls.
“It does do a good job keeping you warmer,” he said. “When it’s 30 or 40 degrees in the water, you don’t want to be in there with a regular wetsuit on. It’s for getting used to them, and some of the guys have worn them before and help.”
The dive training also enables the firefighters to become accustomed to the equipment they wear and use and, for some of them, refresh their underwater skills from previous sessions.
“We put the bottles [air tanks] on them,” Wilson said, “and the masks we use, we can, actually, attach to a communications system. They can have a conversation with the guys on the surface.
“You can’t do a lot in a pool, but they can get underwater and get used to the equipment.”
The dive training also helps the SCFD members make sure their equipment is in working order for emergency call responses, he said.
During last week’s training, “we found a few bottles that needed some minor fixing,” Wilson said. “They do more sitting than being used and, like other things tend to do when they’re not used for a while, they tend to dry out a little bit.”
Wilson said the firefighters worked in the water for about two hours at the Ridgewood Road pool.
“It’s enough time for them to get a feel for the equipment,” he said. “They get to do the easy stuff in the pool, so if they do have to get out into the river, they can be more comfortable. Especially in the Kanawha River, the visibility is just about zero and you’re doing almost everything by feel, so feeling comfortable is a major step in that direction.”