By Adam Luther, Fort Bragg Garrison Public AffairsSeptember 3, 2019
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Aug. 29, 2019) - It's a warm and humid August morning in North Carolina as members of Fort Bragg Fire Department's Dive Team prepare to enter the water at Mott Lake, Aug. 29. The day's training will focus on water recovery, keeping the team sharp and comfortable with their learned skills.
Fort Bragg's Fire Department is one of only six fire departments in the Army to have International Fire Service accreditation and one of 266 agencies worldwide with this accreditation, according to Richard "Scott" McGuire, assistant chief of operations at Fire Station 5.
While divers are in the water, they are attached to a lanyard which serves as a tether between them and the shore. Although it looks like a rope, it contains a cable that allows the divers and those on land the ability to communicate. Having constant communication with those in the water can help keep them calm and focused on the task at hand. During the training, checks are made every five minutes on the oxygen tank levels. Stressful or physically intensive situations can cause divers to use their oxygen tanks at a faster rate.
"Our bottles start with 3,000 pounds per square inch," said Capt. Nicholas Androlowicz, Fort Bragg Fire and Rescue. "We bring them up when they hit 1,000 psi, that gives them a buffer before they run out of air. Depending on the time they are in the water, the temperature, depth of the water, the health of the diver, that all determines how much air they will actually use."
While in the water, the divers are operating blindly once submerged into the dark water. They depend on each other in the water and the team back on shore to stay safe and find what they are looking for.
"We can barely see the watch that we wear, you can barely see that in front of your face," said Matthew Davenport, Fort Bragg Fire and Rescue. "You'll be swimming, doing your search pattern and everything is all kicked up and you'll hit your head on a car or find the thing you have been searching for right in front of your face."
The installation's emergency responders are no strangers to working under pressure in extreme conditions. In fact, many of the first responders participating in the dive training used their experience and training when Hurricane Florence pounded its way through the Sandhills of North Carolina in September 2018.
During Hurricane Florence, Davenport was part of the boat crew working in the heavily-flooded areas of Spring Lake, North Carolina, where the Little River had gone over its bank. The strong, fast-moving water made it difficult to get the boats upstream. On top of that, the hidden obstacles under the water made it more difficult.
"That water's moving so quick, and you think you know a street," explained Davenport. "The next thing you know you going over a car or what you think is a car, trying to get somewhere is the hardest part and then trying to convince people to evacuate their houses."
Lt. Mark Derrico with Fort Bragg Fire and Rescue knew he wanted to be a firefighter since he was 4 years old. He became a firefighter at the age of 18 when he entered the Air Force. He hasn't looked back.
During the seven-day operation surrounding Hurricane Florence, he saw his wife and kids a total of eight hours.
"You go out and see the destruction that other people are living through and everything they had or worked for has been lost," said Derrico. "You go home and hug your kids a little tighter."