___Four Cabot firemen, outfitted in wet suits and scuba gear, slipped into the cold and murky waters of the Freshour quarry one recent afternoon–a 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 visibility.
___ "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 upcoming years.
___ "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.