Diver down: Volunteers go deep in the name of community service

Michigan’s Kalamazoo County Water Safety and Recovery Association lends a hand with public safety agenda

Gary Townsend originally earned his diving certification in 1965.

And like his fellow volunteers with the Kalamazoo County Water Safety and Recovery Association, Townsend still goes above and beyond—by going deep.

“No two operations are the same. Every time we go out on the water, whether it’s to retrieve weapons or a snowmobile or a drowning victim, the situation is different,” says Townsend, a native of Kalamazoo, MI, who pretty much grew up on the water.

“Early on, I found I had a talent for diving, and I’ve been involved for better than 50 years,” he adds. “I look at it as community service. I feel I owe it to my community to put that talent to good use.”

For decades, the 35-member dive team has assisted public safety agencies with underwater search, recovery and crime scene investigations on Kalamazoo County’s 90 lakes and two rivers.

A group of highly organized and trained volunteers, the dive team spends hundreds of hours honing its craft. Most members are sworn special deputies of Kalamazoo County, trained in appropriate evidence handling and documentation techniques.

Many of the team’s divers know these county waters like the backs of their hands. Still, they often submerge themselves in adverse weather conditions or hostile diving environments.

So, in the interest of maximizing safety, the association capped a two-year fundraising initiative in mid-2016 by acquiring a $10,000 remotely operated vehicle (ROV), with camera and lights, that can grasp and retrieve objects and be operated either from shore or the team’s 22-foot Boston Whaler.

We strive at Enbridge to be a good neighbor, and enhance quality of life, in the communities where we operate. We recently donated $2,000 to the Kalamazoo County volunteer dive team for enhancements to the ROV unit, including a set of “virtual reality” glasses for the ROV operator to maximize the unit’s potential.

“Every time you put a diver in the water, you’re exposing that diver to all of the dangers inherent in an alien environment. There are all kinds of risks and hazards,” remarks Townsend. “If we can reduce even a small portion of the exposure and the risk presented to our divers, it’s of tremendous value.”

The Kalamazoo County dive team also actively promotes water safety throughout the community by partnering with local police and fire, the YMCA, and other non-profits in the area.

“Water safety is half our name,” notes Townsend. “We hold regular presentations for kids in the community, and we instill the concept that the water is a dangerous place—and that it needs to be respected.”