Water rescue: JFD builds its diving, water rescue capabilitiesThe unit is called to duty once or twice a year and it seems expensive to purchase equipment and train individuals, but in an emergency, residents say they’re glad Jamestown’s Water Rescue Dive Unit is there. Jamestown Fire Department’s dive team originated in 1958 with four or five scuba divers, said Jim Reuther, JFD fire chief. Today, the unit has doubled its divers and replaced the bus it purchased in 1970.
By: Katie Ryan-Anderson, The Jamestown Sun
The unit is called to duty once or twice a year and it seems expensive to purchase equipment and train individuals, but in an emergency, residents say they’re glad Jamestown’s Water Rescue Dive Unit is there.
Jamestown Fire Department’s dive team originated in 1958 with four or five scuba divers, said Jim Reuther, JFD fire chief. Today, the unit has doubled its divers and replaced the bus it purchased in 1970.
The new bus cost about $13,000 to purchase and $8,000 to refurbish. Most of the renovations are due to donated time from volunteer firefighters. Volunteer firefighters are paid for each fire call, but not for the hours they spend renovating and maintaining vehicles, Reuther said.
The Water Rescue Dive Unit is capable of underwater and under-ice rescues. Team members can comb waters by boat or swim and search individually. Some members have wireless devices attached to their mouthpieces so they can communicate with other divers and commanders. They can also use an underwater camera to record what they see.
Few other counties have similar rescue teams, he said. And because of its updates, the state is considering making the Jamestown dive unit responsible for the southeast region of the state, Reuther said, an honor for the dive team and fire department as a whole.
The city funds most of the fire department’s operations along with Stutsman County, but the dive unit serves the surrounding area as long as the city approves it, Reuther said. The Jamestown water rescue unit is only required a couple times a year, said Lt. Mike Dronen, of the Dive Rescue Team, but when asked, the call is usually severe. The team’s last call was to search for 26-year-old Joshua Blahna in Kensal, N.D., located in Foster County.
Blahna’s body was recovered May 10 after about two weeks of searching.
Jamestown’s dive team responded quickly and worked hard, said Jim Blahna, Joshua’s father.
“They were there when we needed them,” he said.
At the time of the Blahna recovery, the fire department was mid-repair on its dive bus. The vehicle had no tail lights, windshield wipers or turn signals. Since then, however, the volunteer firefighters installed flood and LED lights, remade the seating and locker areas and painted the bus with a shiny new coat of red.
“It’s like a Cadillac compared to what you had,” Reuther said.
Dronen and the fire department designed the bus’ layout — including aligning seating along one wall and lockers on the other. Most buses have two rows of seats down the middle. All the oxygen tanks are fastened to the back of the seating bench, so team members don’t even need to stand to put them on. This arrangement allows for team members to dress faster and safer. Plus, the lockers allow for air to pass through and dry the garments in the bus. Previously, the dive team hung their attire and equipment in the fire hall to dry. If a call came in and the materials hadn’t been reloaded in the bus, the team had to dress at the station, potentially costing them extra time in a life-or-death emergency, Dronen said.
Beneath the bus in cabinets behind the tires, the department installed spaces for ropes and a generator, Dronen said. And lights installed inside and outside the bus make it easier for all to see.
“You’re blind if you don’t see this coming down the road,” Reuther said.
The department designed, engineered and created all the updates itself. It didn’t have a model from a fire-fighting agency or other jurisdiction, Reuther said. Instead, all the refurbishing “come from scratch.”
But because use of the dive bus is relatively rare, few know of its existence, Reuther said.
“It’s not something you show everyday or you want to show everyday,” he said. “But when you need it, it’s there.”
If the public is interested in seeing the new bus, however, the best chance may be from 7 a.m. to noon July 10. JFD is hosting a Pancake Feed at its main fire hall downtown. Tickets are $6 per person or $15 for a family. Proceeds will go toward equipment for the department.
Sun reporter Katie Ryan-Anderson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at email@example.com