Cape dive team buoys readiness
May 07, 2013

BREWSTER — Firefighters are known for running into fires when everyone else is running out.

More than ever, however, when duty calls, they also dive into water, drop into trenches and respond to terrorist attacks.

On Monday at the Brewster Fire Station on Route 6A, Cape Cod fire officials announced a $239,758 Homeland Security grant for a new Capewide dive team that could respond to potential terrorist threats or attacks on ferries, the Cape Cod Canal bridges and other infrastructure.

Cape fire chiefs applied for the grant after an assessment showed a shortage of dive resources for Barnstable County, said George Russell, Sandwich fire chief and president of the Barnstable County Fire Chiefs Association.

The dive team will be a component of the Barnstable County Tech Rescue Team that responds to trench rescues, structural collapses and high-altitude rescues and will cover the entire Cape in two groups of about 20 certified divers each.

It will include but not replace existing local dive teams and the Mid-Cape Dive Team.

About $182,000 of the grant will go toward buying new equipment and $57,000 will be used to train divers, Russell said.

The new dive team will be managed by task force leader Cotuit Fire Chief Christopher Olsen and overseen by the four-member regional tech team board of directors, which includes Cape fire chiefs and deputy chiefs, said Brewster Fire Chief Robert Moran.

There are three other task force leaders responsible for other components of the regional tech team, Moran said.

The grant was approved by the Massachusetts Southeast Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council in 2012, said Suzanne Dagesse, director of homeland security and municipal management at the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District, which administers the funding.

“All projects have to have a connection to terrorism,” she said, adding that the training and equipment will be used for everyday emergency responses as well.

Homeland Security funding has been on the decline since it became available in the years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Dagesse said.

The southeast advisory council received $7.7 million when the Homeland Security grants were first distributed in fiscal 2004. In fiscal 2011 the region, which includes 96 communities, received only $675,000, Dagesse said.

“The funds have definitely diminished,” said advisory council chairwoman and Mattapoisett Police Chief Mary Lyons.

Because of this, the council funnels money to communities in the areas where it is most needed, she said.

The Cape’s regional dive team will coordinate through the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center in the same way that mutual aid is handled, Olsen said.

Regional dive team members will always report to the incident commander from the local agency where the incident occurs, he said.

The new dive equipment will be strategically located in three locations across the Cape, Eastham Deputy Fire Chief Mark Foley said.

Once the grant is expended, fire chiefs will be responsible for necessary training and maintenance of equipment, but the chiefs said they hope to secure other grants in the future.

There is no specific threat of a terrorist attack on Cape Cod that prompted the formation of the new dive team, Foley said, adding that it is part of a nationwide effort to standardize training and equipment for emergency responders.

The existing 25-member Mid-Cape Dive Team was established 20 years ago and includes divers from Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Chatham and Orleans, said Chatham Capt. Nelson Wirtz.

The new equipment for the regional team will be the same type of scuba gear and dry suits used by the Mid-Cape team, said Brewster firefighter, emergency medical technician and dive team member Daniel Kimball.

Training to be certified in public safety classes costs $1,500 for each member in addition to basic dive courses, Kimball said.

Dry suits are used instead of wet suits because of concerns about fuel spills or other contamination in the water, Kimball said.

The divers could be called to respond to any number of scenarios, including cars in the water, a plane crash like the one off Brewster in January 2012 or recovering evidence — such as a gun — for police, the firefighters said.

Then, of course, there are swimmers and boaters who get into trouble. Having a regional team will make those types of rescues easier because rescue divers must have backup divers in case something goes wrong, officials said.