LAKE COUNTY, Ill. — An off-duty Arlington Heights firefighter wearing scuba gear drowned in a Vernon Hills pool, according to an autopsy Monday by the Lake County coroner’s office.
Donald Swisher, 51, of Wonder Lake had been helping to open the pool Sunday at the Discovery Day Camp before he was found in 12 feet of water at about 1 p.m., said Deputy Chief Kris Kazian of the Countryside Fire Protection District. The day camp is in the 200 block of U.S. Highway 45.
Swisher was pronounced dead at 1:50 p.m. Sunday in Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said Lake County Coroner Richard Keller. Keller’s office will have experts analyze the scuba gear and check the quality of air in the tank. The pool also was expected to be examined.
“The people at the camp are having people come in and take apart the drainage system of the pool to see if there was any evidence there that something he was wearing may have been caught up in the suction of the drainage pump,” Keller said.
Swisher had worked for the Arlington Heights Fire Department since 1992, becoming a paramedic in 1995 and an engineer in 2000, said Bernie Lyons, deputy fire chief. Swisher was a member of the department’s dive team.
He previously had worked for the Mundelein Fire Department and was highly respected by colleagues, Lyons said.
Swisher’s file “is full of letters he’s gotten over the years from citizens and people he’s met on calls commending him for his compassion, his courage and his dedication to the fire service,” Lyons said.
“He was always great with the kids on public education displays. He would always go the extra mile to show the kids what the fire engine does, what the tools do.”
Swisher was also a member of the department’s hazardous materials team and technical rescue team, Lyons said. He had earned a reputation as a skilled craftsman and cook. He helped fix appliances around the firehouse and “he ruled that kitchen with an iron fist,” Lyons said. Chocolate chip cookies were one of his specialties.
“We will miss him terribly around here,” he said. “He was a very experienced guy, very respected. Someone we looked up to.”