Diving for the Gila County Sheriff’s Office is risky business. Consider the fuel and other potentially hazardous materials the divers encountered as they tried to locate the helicopter that went down in Roosevelt Lake Dec. 7.
The team’s equipment is old. It should have been put out of service several years ago, John France, GCSO, told the board of supervisors at its Dec. 18 meeting.
France came to the board to accept a $49,700 grant from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security for equipment upgrades. He also asked for the board’s approval of the grant submission made earlier this year. It did not come before the board because of tight deadlines. The award requires no matching funds.
The GCSO was not advised of its success with the grant application until September.
The funds make it possible to upgrade equipment for 10 members of the dive team. The upgrades include in-helmet communication equipment, extra breathing tanks and more to mitigate exposure to hazardous materials.
Incoming Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd was a member of the dive team in the 1980s.
“Diving in the lakes and rivers around here is not like diving in the ocean. The water is not clear. You search by feel,” he said.
He recalled another hazardous materials dive where a crane fell from Roosevelt Dam when it was upgraded. The crane, and its operator, first hit the side of the dam, which caused the crane to essentially explode, and then they went into the lake. To recover the body, Shepherd and his team had to dive in fuel and grease. “It was dangerous,” he said.
The GCSO dive team has been called to help throughout the state and to provide training to other teams. It currently has 13 members, with a new group scheduled for training in the spring, France told the supervisors.