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Williamsport ambulance crew starts dive team

January 25, 1999

Williamsport Dive TeamBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




WILLIAMSPORT - When a Fallston, Md., man died in a car crash after his sport utility vehcicle hit a guard rail on Interstate 70 and dropped 100 feet into the Conococheague Creek on Dec. 2, 1998, the Williamsport Ambulance Volunteer Service was there to help.

Rescue crews had to make a 100-foot descent at a 90-degree angle to reach the water and pull Gilbert E. Stover Jr., 48, from his Toyota 4-Runner. For three hours, they battled 49-degree temperatures in the creek to remove Stover's body from the vehicle.

Williamsport and other fire and rescue crews sprang to action again on July 28, 1998, when Robert J. Wells, 16, of Hagerstown jumped off a cliff 75 feet above the water in a quarry off Hump Road. Using specially equipped boats, workers skimmed the water surface to find the teen, who drowned.

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In the past 13 months, the Williamsport Ambulance Volunteer Service has been called to a total of 19 water accidents, five of which have required underwater divers, according to Dave Hays, Williamsport Chief of Operations.

Noting the increase in water-related accidents, Hays, members of the Williamsport Ambulance and other county departments have been working to establish the Washington County Underwater Rescue/Recovery Team.

"We began the implementation process and over the next four or five months we received support by other departments in the county," Hays said.

The divers will be from various ambulance and fire companies, Hays said, adding that 21 Washington County volunteers have become certified divers so far.

The dive team will be under the direction of the Williamsport Ambulance Volunteer Service, and its equipment will be stored at its headquarters.

"It was something we had been tossing around for five years," he said. "The (recent accidents) reinforced the need for a county dive team."

Williamsport volunteers have been providing primarily surfaced-based rescues - relying on the Maryland State Police Underwater Recovery Team for divers.

Only eight state police divers cover Maryland with minimum one-hour response time, Hays said.

Aside from the state police, the nearest dive team is in Charles Town, W.Va.

The Williamsport-based team will have its own certified divers with advanced training and sophisticated diving and medical equipment.

"We are still in the planning and implementation stages. We are still going on calls but not advertising us as full service," said Hays. He expects to have the team up to speed and doing dives by March.

Hays, who is a certified diver himself, said dive team volunteers are still receiving specialized training. Additional equipment will be purchased and installed before they will consider themselves official, he said.

Working primarily on donations, the Williamsport volunteers managed to buy an 18-foot flat-bottom boat, rubber raft and five cold water suits. The team also has a backboard, cervical collars, buoys, a first aid kit, radio, red bar light, and generator.

A support unit trailer, donated by Fuji Color, Williamsport, houses dry suits, air tanks, cold water suits and other medical equipment for the divers.

The suits will be left in the trailer and transported to each accident site, he said.

"We appreciate the public support we've received from the community," Hays said.

Reflecting the team's appreciation, the phrase "Provided by the Community We Serve," is emblazoned on the side of the support unit trailer.

Williamsport Ambulance is still in need of monetary and in-kind contributions to purchase additional scuba regulators and help get the project up and running, he said. Donations designated for the dive team can be sent to the Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Service.

Annual costs to maintain the equipment will be taken on by the town ambulance service, he said.

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