SCOTT TWP. - If someone is in distress due to a water or ice emergency, chances are the Dive Rescue Specialists, based out of Scott Twp., will jump to assist.
"The fire companies used to call local scuba diver, Bob Warren of Greenfield Twp., when there was a drowning to come look for the victim," said charter member and Waverly township manager Bill White said. "After a couple calls, Warren said ‘We need to form a dive team.'"
According to White, Warren stressed the need for a dive team that would arrive promptly on the scene.
"If we come quickly, we can get these people out and revive them. Nobody ever does that," Warren said. "A scuba diver might look for the person a few hours later. We need to form a quick response scuba team."
In the summer of 1983, following a number of local drownings, a group of local scuba divers formed the Dive Rescue Specialists, Inc., an emergency quick response scuba team.
Recognized on the state level by the Office of the State Fire Commissioner as a Participating Department of the PA Voluntary Fire Service Certification Program, Dive Rescue Specialists are also accredited by the Pennsylvania Water Rescue Instructors Association as a Level II Water Rescue Team.
The PA Voluntary Fire Service Certification Program recognizes emergency service personnel whose accomplishments in training and education meets or exceeds nationally recognized standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
"There are various levels that increase depending on the quality of equipment, training and some other factors," said White said.
In 1983, White, who is a close friend of Warren's, was recruited to help in the efforts to create the team.
"Bob and I were friends, and he convinced me that I should help him do that, along with a number of other people," White said. "There were probably about 8 to 10 of us that met the first time and formed the dive team."
A year later, having grown to a membership of more than 15 divers and support personnel and needing a place in which to house their scuba and rescue equipment, the Dive Rescue Specialists affiliated with the Scott Twp. Hose Co. of Montdale. They were recognized by the Scott Twp. Supervisors, who paid their vehicle insurance and workers' compensation coverage, but the group remains independent and is not funded by any municipality.
They recently moved to the Justus Fire Company because they were in need of more space.
According to White, the members were granted workers' compensation and vehicle insurance from the Board of Supervisors of Scott Twp. to provide emergency water rescues, while still remaining as an independent rescue department.
"We had established a very good reputation," White said. "We've never had an incident where any of our members have been killed or suffered major injuries. We use very good safety precautions in everything that we do."
As the team was dispatched to more and varied types of water emergencies, it became apparent that different kinds of water rescue training were needed. Many of the members became trained as water rescue technicians, receiving certifications in swift water rescue, boat rescue, advanced line systems and ice rescue. The scuba divers advanced their certifications to include Emergency Rescue Diver (ERD) training, according to White.
The Dive Rescue Specialists conduct numerous public service safety programs on a yearly basis. For the past 26 years, they have presented an interactive water safety and scuba diving program for the annual Pennsylvania State Police Troop R Camp Cadet.
They have performed water rescue duties for the Lackawanna Riverfest Canoe Race and the Endless Mountains Triathlon.
Water safety, underwater search and ice rescue demonstrations for the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, school students and the general public are also part of their schedule.
During the past two decades, the Dive Rescue Specialists have rescued close to 100 people trapped by flood waters in their homes or vehicles, according to their website www.diveteam28.com
They have responded to flooding incidents in areas including Carbondale, Dickson City, Great Bend, Jermyn, Mayfield, Newton Twp., Scott Twp., Scranton and Kirkwood, N.Y.
The department has also conducted numerous underwater searches for evidence for the Pennsylvania State Police and local municipal police departments.
"A lot of people will throw evidence from various crimes in the water," White said. "I've personally found guns and safes, among other things."
Membership of the Dive Rescue Specialists totals more than 40. All regular active members are required to be certified by a nationally or state recognized training agency in a scuba diver or an emergency water rescue response training program.
The group operate five boats, a jet ski they rent from Rusty Palmer Sports, Rescue Alive, dive truck and a trailer. The crew also has three inflatable rafts, two motorized. One is a river raft with a high front for high, swift water rescues; a 14-foot aluminum v-bottom boat and a smaller river raft.
"The crew is also certified to perform ice rescues, but a lot of the times by the time you get there it's no longer a rescue, it's a recovery," White said.
White takes pride in the successful rescues the team has executed.
"We've had some dive rescues where we've retrieved a person and revived them," he said. "We've had quite a lot of ice rescues of people and dogs. In flooding situations, in 2006, we traveled to the Hallstead/Great Bend area and rescued 70 people out of houses that were flooded."
According to White, the group is often called to aid other rescue teams.
"We do an awful lot of assists to other diver water rescue teams," he said "Our main coverage area is Lackawanna County and part of Susquehanna County, but we assist other rescue groups in many other counties."
All members are unpaid volunteers. The group receives state-matching grants and runs a golf tournament and pancake breakfast every year for funding.
"The golf tournament has been huge, it's what's kept us going," White said. "We've bought a bunch of our equipment from money raised from it. The Waverly Woman's Club has also donated money every year."
White added that the group is open to expansion.
"We're always looking for new members," White said. "Water Rescue training is done yearly for members and is free of charge, and we offer a reduced rate to members for scuba training."
There is no residency restriction for members, they range from Lackawanna County all the way to Hop Bottom, Pa.
According to White, 10 of the original 15 or 16 members are still active.
White, one of the original members and divers, is not an active diver during rescues anymore, but remains active in the group.
White said the group has members in their 60s and 70s who remain involved in several different functions.
"The oldest member, Joe Janichko, 77, of Waverly, is still active in rescues," White said. "A lot of the other older guys help with the fundraisers and will go to calls as surface support."