Port Arthur Fire Department dive team conduct criminal investigations underwater despite outdated equipment – Port Arthur News

A diver from the Port Arthur Fire Department entered the Sabine-Neches Channel in January while attempting a recovery. But soon after, he got entangled in some old metal and ended up under a concrete slab below the surface.

At the same time, a military ship crossed the channel.

But the diver would not know; he couldn’t see.

“In the water here, unless you’re very lucky, visibility is six inches or none,” said captain Joshua Reswebber. “All of this is done with your eyes closed with additional equipment. This is why training is so important, to make it safe for the diver and to allow you to master your skills while in the water.

Reswebber, who has been with the department since 2005, earned his scuba certification in 2013. It’s one of many certifications divers earn, ranging from the ability to dive 60 feet to the use of metal detectors. under water.

“The end goal is to become a master underwater criminal investigator,” Reswebber said.

This comes with the ability to conduct criminal investigations, lift weighted bodies, and lift vehicles.

Currently, the department has 12 master underwater criminal investigators, one dive master and three entering the dive master program.

About a week after the January recovery attempt, a dive team entered the ship’s channel to recover a vehicle.

“We’ll send divers in and they’ll hook up on one side, either the driver’s side or the passenger’s side of the vehicle,” Reswebber said. “They are going to float it, so it will be on the side. If you just grab four tires and float them, because of the weight of the engine, the car will always end up upside down. That’s why we bring it to the side, then tie it up and flip it upright to keep evidence inside the car. »

It’s impressive to watch, said fire chief Greg Benson.

“You see four (of the divers) coming out of the water and the vehicle is right there,” he said.

And, he added, it’s part of an integral underwater operation that the general public may not know exists.

Divers don’t just save and recover; they conduct comprehensive crime scene investigations far below the surface of the water. Using hand-created containers, divers can retrieve weapons and store them in such a way that, even if they have been submerged in water, fingerprints can still be obtained.

Checkered excavations at the bottom of a body of water locate bullet casings and sometimes even teeth.

Recovering the vehicle in February required a 38ft dive – the deepest to date.

“Generally, unless you’re in the ship channel, we dive 15 to 20 feet,” Reswebber said. “Every time we enter this shipping channel, it drops down to 48 feet. Once you dive deeper, you consume air faster. At about 33 feet, every breath you take inhales twice the amount of air from your cylinder. The pressure makes the air denser.

Adding the lack of visibility and water temperature only creates more challenges.

Sometimes the water drops below 48 degrees.

This can be problematic, given that the current dive rescue vehicle does not have a working heater.

A new truck

Port Arthur City Council this week approved the purchase of a 2022 Dive Rescue Vehicle to replace the department’s current model, which was manufactured in 1996.

“It’s old and there are a lot of problems. It’s not reliable,” Reswebber said. “We had problems with starting or engine problems. When we try to climb one of the bridges, it struggles. And I can’t pull anything behind. If I try to climb one of the bridges with a boat behind it, we’ll probably end up backing up.

Because there is no heat, the team usually brings a pickup to warm up the divers once they surface.

The limited storage space allows only 70% of the necessary equipment. And because there are no seats, divers equip themselves standing in a moving vehicle.

“It’s not safe, but our guys are doing what they have to do,” Reswebber said. “This thing, the suspension is really bad on it. I’m saying it’s like driving a clown car. If you’re back here getting dressed…we’re lucky we haven’t hurt anyone yet.

The new vehicle, which was designed by Municipal Fire Apparatus Specialists LLC in McAllen, will have interior seating that will allow divers to be secure in the van while donning their gear. The equipment inside can be reached from the outside. And a retractable hose allows air tanks to be filled at the diver, not the truck.

“If you’re on the water, this stuff is heavy,” Reswebber said. “I dive – not just counting the weight of the bag – I dive with 22 extra pounds. So a guy has to lift that bag and carry it to the truck to fill it. Our new dive vehicle will have a hose that will extend up to 250 feet so that we can fill the dive tanks at the water’s edge.

The van, which won’t arrive until next year, has an expected lifespan of 15 years.

Mark M. Gagnon