It's common knowledge among the 10 or so Platte County Dive & Rescue team members that their equipment is a little outdated.
The joint-departmental team comprised of members of the Platte County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Columbus Police and Fire departments, was founded in 1984. And the vast majority of the equipment used by the squad on rescue and recovery missions dates back decades all the way to the group’s inception.
But with most search, rescue and recovery missions, the equipment remains proficient - it even upheld during the catastrophic March flooding. Still, PCSO deputies/Dive & Rescue team members Christopher Spale and Justin Grant said that if the county is ever underwater again they – and the rest of their team – want to ensure that they have the best equipment possible to carry out their jobs and save lives.
With that goal in mind, the Platte County Dive and Rescue Team just kicked off a raffle fundraiser that is running until early September. Those wanting to assist with the effort are encouraged to swing by the sheriff’s office at 2610 14th St. in Columbus. Tickets can be purchased for $2 each, or six for $10. An assortment of prizes will be raffled off at noon on Sept. 3 inside of the community room located in the basement of the Platte County Courthouse.
The community, the duo said, can feel good about where their hard-earned dollars are going. Currently, the team operates out of a single, older model dive boat not equipped to handle any swift-water situations. During the March flooding, the team relied on the generosity of community members who provided the team with airboats to carry out an assortment of rescue missions.
In addition, the buoyancy control vests that help team members sink and float are older, as are the mouth regulators, air tanks and other equipment necessary for the unit to carry out its duties.
“So that is kind of our goal with the fundraiser, to get new dive suits, BCs (buoyancy control vests), tanks, regulators, so that we are more safely equipped to enter the water," Spale said.
The team more than a month ago started touring Platte County, beginning in Lindsay and visited businesses county-wide to see if owners would like to donate items to the raffle or provide a monetary donation. Grant said that most businesses were very receptive toward helping the cause. Because of that generosity, there are a plethora of great raffle items – big and small – for those purchasing tickets from the sheriff’s office.
“We have everything from – we are raffling off – a Henry rifle, a Remington 870 shotgun, we have three Denver Broncos football tickets against the Oakland Raiders, we have two-quarters of beef, and then all the way down to gift cards for numerous locations around the county,” Grant said. “And then we have things like free oil changes, just stuff like that throughout the county.”
The county Dive & Rescue team, operated through the PCSO, is 100-percent privately funded and all of its team members complete their duty on a voluntary basis.
There are years where the Dive & Rescue team is only called out a few times. There are other years where its services have been utilized four or five times. This year has already been a little dicey.
In late May, the team recovered the body of a drowning victim from the Lake North/Lake Babcock waterway, and prior to that, was involved in the body recovery of Columbus woman Betty Hamernik from her south Columbus home.
During the flooding, team members – most of whom are also sheriff’s office deputies – were working 12 to 15 hour days and balancing their formal jobs with their Dive & Rescue jobs. There was one sheriff’s deputy – not on the team – who worked an approximately 30-hour shift before finally taking a breather.
The men said that their normal job isn’t for the faint of heart, and this is even truer in regard to being a Dive & Rescue member. When they were wading through floodwaters, the men didn’t have time to process what was happening. They simply kept their heads down and did what they are trained to do.
“With the amount of stuff we had going on you really didn’t even have time to think about it,” Grant said. “It seemed like we were running from call, to call, to call trying to keep other citizens safe … I guess it didn’t really set in for me until about a week later and it’s just one of those things where you have to keep moving on. You have to do your job.”
Spale echoed a similar sentiment.
“You just look forward to what you have to do and you get it done,” Spale said. “Because if you don’t focus on what you are doing you aren’t going to be able to help anybody. When you have been doing our line of work for any real amount of time, I guess, some of those things you become numb to it. And then when it is all over, you can look back and get in check with yourself later and reflect on it.”
Although the work can be mentally and physically tough and tedious, team members know their services are valuable. That is why the look forward to the public’s support so they have the proper equipment to tackle adverse situations when they arise. Because inevitably, they will.
“We just want to prepare ourselves for the worst, essentially,” Grant said. “We just want to have the means to assist, if possible.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.