Rescue divers ready for season


WILLIAMSPORT - In just a few days, boaters, anglers and swimmers will take to area waterways as Memorial Day ushers in the summer season.

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With such activities comes the potential for accidents, and members of the Washington County Underwater Rescue/Recovery Team are ready to help - on or under the water.

"Traditionally, Memorial Day to Labor Day is our peak time for water rescues," said Dave Hays, chief of operations for the Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Association.

The dive team was formed last year by members of local fire and ambulance companies and became fully operational in April. It is under the direction of the Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Association.


Before the dive team formed, surface-based rescues and recoveries from boats were undertaken primarily by Williamsport Ambulance Service. Maryland State Police divers handled underwater rescues.

Last year, Williamsport Ambulance Service responded to 19 water accidents, five of which required underwater divers, said Hays. The county dive team was created in response to an increasing number of accidents, he said.

Over the past few months, a management team with nine company representatives was formed and additional dry suits, regulators and other supplies were purchased.

"We still have other equipment we would like to buy, but we're ready to go," said Hays.

He said the team has the minimum supplies needed to complete underwater rescues.

In addition to rescues and recoveries, the team will work to educate the public about water safety, he said.

The dive team has been funded primarily through donations from the community.

The equipment for the county dive team will be stored in Williamsport because it is close to the Potomac River, said Hays.

The team has 20 certified divers and is taking applications for more, he said.

The divers will meet about three times a month for training exercises at Riverbottom Park.

Becoming a diver is not cheap and requires a lot of training time.

Participants spend about $500 to $700 for initial training and basic equipment, according to diver Tim Warrenfeltz of the Fairplay Fire Department.

Advanced equipment costs around $1,300, he said.

Despite the cost, Warrenfeltz called it "a good opportunity."

He said he likes the camaraderie with the other members and helping the public.

Diver Justin Bass of the Williamsport Ambulance Volunteer Association agreed.

He enjoys being part of the team because it allows him to put his diving skills to use for the community, he said.

"I fish and do watersports, and who knows, one day maybe I'll need help," he said.

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