When out sailing on Smith Mountain Lake, there are bound to be incidents that range from dropping a possession in the lake to sinking boats. In these cases, the Smith Mountain Lake Marine Volunteer Fire & Rescue Emergency Response Divers (ERDs) are the ones who are called to save the day.
These individuals are considered unsung heroes of the lake for the type of dangerous work they do. Chad Quinn, who is the team leader of the divers and has been with the team for a year and a half, said they aren’t their own department but are actually members of the fire department. They currently have 14 divers who range from new to public safety divers. They also have a wide range of responsibilities.
“We’re there, basically, if there is an emergency as far as drowning or anything like that,” Quinn said. “We do boat recoveries and car recoveries, like if someone runs their car in the lake as an example. We also do a lot of personal recoveries like someone drops their cell phone or anything of that matter. We try to help the community in that regard. Our primary focus though is to be there on any kind of emergency that happens on Smith Mountain Lake.”
Quinn, who used to be a diver for the sheriff’s office, said it takes extensive training to become a proficient public safety diver. Water training may take at least 100 hours. A new diver will become certified through a national organization as a basic open water diver, which will allow him/her to go to a certain depth. They will then work toward being an advanced open water diver. After that they do a specialty course, which focuses on dry suits, full face, and search and recovery that will prepare the diver to be certified as a public safety diver. Once they reach that level, they learn how to search for victims, evidence recovery, and how to hook air bags up to cars and boats to lift them.
The kicker is that the divers learn how to do this with limited to zero visibility.
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