Fort McCoy firefighters practice under-ice diving
Nearly 40 firefighters with Fort McCoy’s Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department completed under-ice dive and iced-surface rescue training in early February at Big Sandy Lake on Fort McCoy. The training was primarily ice-dive certification for the department’s dive team.
“Jeff Zilliox with Marineland Dive of Onalaska (Wis.) works with our divers to complete required dive certifications in order to perform dive operations in both open water and ice,” Deputy Fire Chief Brady Brever said. “The training also included some scenario-based activity to train on surface rescue from ice and to incorporate a dive under ice, as well.”
Brever said one of the scenarios includes the dive team receiving a call from dispatch that an adult fell through the ice on Big Sandy Lake. After conducting a surface rescue, the firefighters are then informed that a second person had gone under the surface, which initiates a dive for the second person.
“The same scenario was conducted on multiple days in order to incorporate as many divers as possible,” Brever said.
“This is a realistic call requiring both surface and dive operations. The goal of the training was to simulate a multipatient scenario in real time, once surface rescue was complete. The team switched to dive operations and performed a search for the second patient. Once complete with the scenario, the dive team continued training on search patterns to reinforce communication and search skills.”
Fort McCoy formed the dive team 10 years ago. Zilliox said he started teaching the training to Fort McCoy firefighters around that same time. He first taught diving basics during the summer months at Lake Wazee in Jackson County, Wis.
“We got them used to diving first and then moved them into public safety,” Zilliox said in a February 2019 article about the same training activity.
“Ice diving is about practice, practice, practice,” Zilliox said. “Even though we do this every year, even when we’re not teaching a bunch of new guys, we will still come out and do this because it is that important.”
Divers took turns going in and out of a hole cut into the ice. Each diver was tethered with a line that included a communications connection.
Divers go in with dry suits and full-face masks, so the comfort level is much higher for them when they are underwater, Zilliox said. The divers are well-equipped, so the training helps them become well-versed in using that equipment. Divers were underwater for 15 to 20 minutes on average, completing lost diver and search scenarios.
Brever said underwater scenarios help them learn what it’s like in case they have to assist in a real-world emergency.
“Our surface rescue and divers performed well,” Brever said.
“They demonstrated rapid response and recovery on the surface rescue as well as communication skills during dive operations for the second patient. When setting up training events in high-risk, low-frequency events, the goal is to make the scenario as realistic and accurate to real events as possible. This training was a prime example of what realistic training should look like.”
Brever said diving is just one of many capabilities that Fort McCoy firefighters have to support the installation as well as local communities through mutual aid.
(The Fort McCoy Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department contributed to this article.)