Sheriff’s team dives into new search and rescue technology


By Curtis Wildfong • Last Updated 10:20 pm on Friday, December 13, 2013

A member of the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office dive team drops into the water during a training session on Dec. 6 at Ford Lincoln Park on Townline Lake in Cato Township. At top, right, divers with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office dive team tested their new equipment.

 

STANTON — With the help of grant funds, the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office dive team is now heavily equipped with new technology to help better its search and rescue efforts.

Thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Greenville Area Community Foundation, the department was able to purchase imaging technology that can locate objects underwater, helping the team better locate whatever it is they are searching for.

New dive team equipment, such as new masks and gloves, are a welcome addition to the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office dive team thanks to grants from the Greenville Area Community Foundation and Region 6 Homeland Security.

The dive team is now equipped with side-scan sonar, which creates an image of the lake bottom. The dive team also has new flotation jackets.

Because the company the items were purchased from offered a governmental discount, the sheriff’s office was able to purchase 360-degree imaging equipment, which produces 3D images of underwater objects.

The tracking equipment also features a global positioning system (GPS), which tracks movements across the water so the team can cover the most ground without retracing.

The team also received a $25,000 grant from Region 6 Homeland Security for six face masks fully equipped with communication devices, including ear pieces, microphones and a hard wire (which also serves as a tether), connecting divers to operators on the surface.

“Before this, the only way we could communicate with the divers was by pulling on the rope,” said Sheriff Bill Barnwell. “One pull for this and two for that … we had our own little system.”

As part of the Homeland Security grant, the department was also able to purchase water boots, high intensity underwater lights and an underwater video camera.

Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office dive team members, in no particular order, Brian Brecker, Justin Schafer, Charlie Mahar and Kevin Brecker, test their new equipment.

“Without this money, there is no way we would be able to get this equipment because of budgets,” said Sgt. Scott Bates, who heads the dive team. “This is just an incredible opportunity for our dive team to help give back to the community and be able to help surrounding communities. It’s going to be a great asset for our dive team.”

And it not only makes the team better, but safer as well.

“It makes it so much easier for the divers. It makes for less stress, and in a stressful situation, the less stress the better we are,” added dive team member Brian Brecker. “The key thing is safety and everybody going home at the end of the day.”

The quest for additional equipment came after the team had to request assistance from multiple counties in a two-day search for a Tri County High School student on Little Whitefish Lake in Pierson Township. At the time, the team had no tracking technology and required help from outside departments.

Divers with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office assist each other with new equipment.

“It was frustrating not having the right equipment,” said Deputy Kevin Brecker, who serves on the dive team. “We need to be able to do this stuff on our own.”

With the new equipment, the dive team can now be the team sought by others.

“It’s going to increase our capabilities tenfold,” Brecker said. “To be able to go out and have the sonar to start searching, it gives us the resources to save divers.”

The equipment is all in possession and the team has been training on the water with it.

So far, so good.

“It works really well and it’s pretty simple to use,” Brecker said.

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