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Dive team raises money for underwater radios

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Northfield Dive Rescue Team members help each other out of the water during a swift-water rescue training on the Miller's River in Erving April 21.

    Recorder/David Rainville
    Northfield Dive Rescue Team members help each other out of the water during a swift-water rescue training on the Miller's River in Erving April 21.

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Northfield Dive Rescue Team members help each other out of the water during a swift-water rescue training on the Miller's River in Erving April 21.

    Recorder/David Rainville
    Northfield Dive Rescue Team members help each other out of the water during a swift-water rescue training on the Miller's River in Erving April 21.

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Northfield Dive Rescue Team members help each other out of the water during a swift-water rescue training on the Miller's River in Erving April 21.
  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Northfield Dive Rescue Team members help each other out of the water during a swift-water rescue training on the Miller's River in Erving April 21.

Picture yourself swimming under murky water, unable to see your own hand in front of your face. The only way you can find your way through the depths is by relying on a signal rope held in your hand as you search through the darkness.

For the Northfield Dive Rescue Team, this is often a reality. Whether they’re on a routine training drill or searching for survivors in an ice-covered pond, the only way for the team’s divers and shore crew to communicate is through a set of rudimentary rope-pull signals.

“It’s primitive, but it gets the trick done,” said Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III, head of the dive team.

They could communicate via submersible radio. The technology exists; the only thing keeping it out of the dive team’s hands (and scuba masks) is the price tag.

“Our goal is to raise $12,000” for the system, said Dunnell.

The team is about halfway to that $12,000, which will outfit it with four diver radios and a system to use on shore.

Now, if divers need to be told anything that can’t be expressed via a tug on the rope, they have to come back to the surface to speak with topside teammates, losing valuable time.

“Timing is of the essence in rescue operations,” said Bill Ryan, a dive team member. “Time saved, especially with communication, could make a huge difference.”

The dive team regularly works with divers from the state police. But, said Dunnell, his team is usually there first. Usually, he said, when state police are involved, it’s a recovery mission, rather than the active rescues the dive team often conducts.

“One advantage we have over (state police divers) is that we have people all throughout the county, so we’re more apt to pull off a rescue,” said Ryan. “(State police) have to pull them from a more broad region.”

The radios will allow the team to communicate with state police divers as well as each other, helping coordinate joint search efforts.

In some search missions, said Dunnell, the team will send three or four divers into the water, without signal ropes. They’ll spread out as far as visibility allows, which could be 20 feet apart, or close enough to reach out and touch the next diver, said Dunnell. In moving water, divers can easily drift off course.

In those situations, divers have to surface frequently to make sure they’re staying on track. Radios would enable them to correct their courses while submerged.

On their own

The Northfield Dive Rescue Team is an independent organization, with 32 volunteer members. It serves all of Franklin County, and is often called to assist in search and rescue efforts in southern Vermont and New Hampshire as well. The dive team is responsible for raising all of its own operating and equipment costs, said Dunnell.

“We get no state, municipal, or federal funding,” added Ryan.

Donations, and events like the team’s annual lobster bake, are what keeps its fuel and scuba tanks full, its equipment maintained, and the bills paid.

If you’d like to help out, donations may be sent to: Northfield Dive Rescue Team, care of Skip Dunnell, 20 Hamilton Drive, Northfield, MA 01360.

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