By: Phillip Weiss
The dive pool at USC's, Blatt P. E. center is normally filled with high divers, but Wednesday morning, there were scuba divers. The Richland County Sheriff's department's underwater rescue team was using the facility to train their new members. A large number of waterways here in Columbia pose a number of potential dangers. The new divers will be trained to assist the diving team, on keeping those various waters safe.
Ron Griffin, a Richland County Reserve Deputy says, "I'm an avid diver. I like to do recreational diving, and, uh, when I became a reserve deputy with Richland County, I just found out they had an underwater recovery team."
In November of 2011, Griffin joined the dive team, and has been training ever since. He, and other divers spent the morning trying on new gear and simulating an under water rescue search. Though, Griffin is an avid diver, and spends a lot of time in the water there was some equipment he had never worn, or used before, "This is the first time I've ever worn a dry suit. And then we had to do a search with the dry suit on and get you accustomed to that."
Sure, many people find swimming to be a rather easy and enjoyable sport. But, combine swimming with heavy divers equipment, and knowing that someone's life is in your hands – may be a bit nerve racking for the average person.
"You just take your time and go under, and we have our teammates who are there to help you incase you have any questions or anything. Its just basically getting acclimated to the suit your in, the gear, and the atmosphere of the pool as well," says Griffin about his diving experience.
The sole reason the Richland County Underwater Response Unit was out training yesterday is for what they call – water safety. And, in regards to that safety, Lt. McColman says that 2008 is one year that he will not soon forget.
"We were the busiest we'd ever been. We had actually 10 drowning's in Richland County. When I say memorable, it was the most regretful that we have done because, uh, every one of those could have been prevented if they were wearing a personal floatation device."
For this unit, taking the plunge to try and save lives is what motivates officers with the diving unit to continue doing their job even, when faced with so many tragedies. The divers go above, and beyond the call of duty, treating each case as though it were a crime scene even if someone drowning is not their target rescue.
"If the investigation calls us to dive for any type of, uh, evidence. May it be a murder weapon or, any type of vehicle of course being in the water, and we dive every dive as if it were a crime scene," says McColman.
For the new divers, yesterdays' training was easy compared to the challenges that lie ahead of them. Divers next training exercise will take them from the diving pool, to the murky waters of Lake Murray, to investigate a submerged vehicle.