firemen, outfitted in wet suits and scuba gear, slipped into the cold
and murky waters of the Freshour quarry one recent afternoona
training exercise for the Lonoke County Dive Team.
___The team's self-assigned mission that
day was to recover a truck toolbox they had discovered on an earlier
training exercise and to bring it back to shore. They wanted to recover
the toolbox of a 2003 Chevy Silverado pushed into the water about
one year ago they discovered during an August exercise.
___ The team, composed of five members
of the Cabot Fire Department, had waited until the weather got cold
to retrieve the toolbox to prepare themselves for winter job calls.
"The main thing here is getting everyone used to the temperature,"
said dive team
___ leader Brandon Burgess. "We
have to be ready for any kind of temperature." Burgess met with
divers Mike Spaller, Mike Fortson, Brandon Tounzen, and Bobby Hefner
to set the dive plan before retrieval would begin. Spaller, Fortson,
Tounzen, and Hefner were to enter the quarry at the opposite end of
the toolbox, take a compass bearing, and swim to the toolbox at an
underwater depth of 15 feet then 34 feet.
___ Burgess was not able to suit up because
of a previously sustained injury, so he observed the team's performance
from the shore. The compass reading placed the divers within five
feet of the box on the opposite edge of the quarry. Burgess noted
dive calls from police departments would not be as easy though, because
the team would not know the location of the items they were looking
for beforehand. The team reported the box was 34 feet deep in the
water, where the water temperature was about 55 degrees. "It's
hard underwater because you can only see your compass and your buddies
around you," Burgess said of underwater navigation.
___ The four active divers attached lift
bags, bags filled with air, to the toolbox once they found it, floated
it to the surface and pulled it back to shore. Despite the lift bags
lightening the load, the water trapped in the toolbox made the return
travel difficult. "The trip back was tough," Spaller said.
Once the box had been returned to shore, the men tipped it up to empty
the water and only two men were needed to lift the load into the back
of a truck to take it to Cabot police as evidence.
___ The men began training in the summer
and have been certified in the open water entry level, advanced open
water, master diver, and rescue diver classifications by Scuba Schools
International of Little Rock. Only the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's
dive team is qualified to the same level, according to the dive team's
Scuba Schools International instructor. Advanced open water certification
includes advanced dive planning, underwater navigation, night diving,
and deep sport diving, where divers had to submerge at least 60 feet.
___ Master diver certification includes
equipment maintenance, advanced navigation, relocation and recovery,
diving physics and physiology knowledge, and a stress and rescue diving
qualification test. The stress and rescue diving test had the men
swim 200 yards on the surface of the water and then simulate a black
water dive, a dive where the water is so dark there is zero percent
___ "You can't see your hand in
front of your face," Burgess said. The team was funded with about
$20,500 from Lonoke County and about $7,500 from Cabot this year to
help fund the new program, including the purchase of five complete
sets of specialty diving gear able to protect the team in any environment.
Burgess noted the team would not need the same amount of funding in
___ "This equipment will last forever
as long as we keep it up," he said. Possible expenses in coming
years include underwater communication gear, an underwater metal detector,
and an underwater camera for the team. The team used a trailer and
a boat already owned by the city to save more on costs. The trailer
also acts as the mobile communications center, the disaster response
unit, and the hazardous materials response unit.