Virginia Paramedics Join Police Dive Team

Medics in Deep Creek help support police search and recovery team


VERONICA GONZALEZ, The Virginian-Pilot | | Monday, October 29, 2012

A police boat slid into a secluded nook ringed by trees across the High-Rise Bridge on Interstate 64. Onboard, two divers dressed in full gear sat on the stern while two officers and a paramedic stood.

The boat pulled up near a pair of divers who swam up at a spot locals know as "the Cove."

The divers took off their flotation vests underwater and hoisted them up to the paramedic and an officer, dumping water that

left muddy trails on the sides.

"It's a little heavier than I anticipated," said firefighter/paramedic David Jacob, pulling the vest.

Jacob isn't a rescue diver, but he's a member of the police department's dive team.

Jacob is one of four paramedics who joined the police department's Underwater Search and Recovery Team after the Dec. 20 death of police diver Timothy Schock. He drowned during practice after two equipment malfunctions.

Dive operations were suspended for more than four months until divers got new equipment and more training. The paramedics have become an integral part of the team since the spring, when the dive team resumed operations.

The job of the paramedics is to spot problems before it's too late: heart complications, air embolisms and decompression sickness can all pose problems for divers.

The paramedics also are there to treat whatever victims divers may encounter.

To date, medics mostly have dealt with more minor health issues like jellyfish stings and cuts.

But they also make sure the divers stay healthy and nag them to drink water, especially on hot days.

"We end up being more like these guys' moms in a lot of cases," said Lt. David King, a paramedic for 22 years.

The dive team practices twice a month, and at least one medic, if not more, attends practices.

"We're primarily there for them," Jacob said, adding that being part of the team helps medics recognize nonverbal signs for help. "If we would have to provide care, we have a better connection."

Though medics don't suit up with divers, they have become an "extra set of hands," having learned basic skills such as operating a boat and guiding divers who are underwater with a rope, King said.

"In the event we're one of the first people there, they can go right to work," he said.

About the only downside to the partnership is that the firefighters' overtime pay is in jeopardy, affecting how many of the medics may end up participating in rescues or training.

They recently were told to cut back, which could mean only one paramedic responds to training or a real-life emergency.

"Two medics is your best-case scenario," King said. "We're still trying to figure out how we're going to respond to it."

During training at the site of a recent drowning, three of the four paramedics participated in practice.

A few miles away, King and paramedic Tony Stewart waited at Chesapeake Yachts, at the end of Millville Road. It was the closest launching site to the Cove.

Before becoming a firefighter in Chesapeake 13 years ago, King had gone through the police academy with another police diver and he also had served as a SWAT medic.

"The majority of the guys I knew," he said. "They took us in from Day One and haven't treated us differently than anyone else."

Jacob said he enjoys being on the team.

"It's a great group of guys," Jacob said of his team members. "They work really well together. They have a good bond and I'm glad to be part of it."

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