Since its resurrection in 2012, officials say the Johnson County Metro Dive Team has responded to 14 calls in Iowa City and surrounding cities.
Dave Wilson, director of the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency, said the group more or less faded away in 2003, but was re-established three years ago when the need for a locally-based recovery and rescue dive team arose.
“The dive team is a recovery unit that recovers anything from stolen vehicles to drowning victims and everything in between. When the team went dormant, we had to borrow those resources from other counties that had dive teams, like Muscatine County,” Wilson said. “We resurrected the team here because, ultimately, it was getting very difficult to get a timely response.”
The 15-member dive team includes:
- One member from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
- Two members from the Iowa City Fire Department.
- One member from the North Liberty Police Department.
- Two members from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, one of which also works with the Johnson County Ambulance Service and volunteers from the Coralville Fire Department.
- One member from the University of Iowa Police Department.
Iowa City Firefighter Tom Hartshorn, who is the dive team coordinator, said the remaining eight members are citizen volunteers working for Cedar Rapids-based Seatasea Watersports Center and Ocean Reef Scuba. Hartshorn said the team also expects to add a member from the Iowa City Police Department.
Hartshorn said the agencies have provided assistance among the municipalities they are located in and have provided mutual aid to calls to Muscatine and Poweshiek counties. Wilson said the team has been providing diving-related mutual aid with little more than a spoken understanding. On Tuesday, the Iowa City Council voted to sign a formal agreement between the entities that “takes what was an existing understanding and turns it into a more formal agreement,” Wilson said.
The agreement will now be passed on to the governing bodies of the communities that contribute members to the team.
A majority of the calls the team responds to are related to underwater search and recovery of evidence related to law enforcement investigations, Hartshorn said.
“That’s more common, fortunately, than drowning victims or water-related emergencies. It’s been used on the law enforcement side more for recovering things like weapons thrown in the water,” Hartshorn said. “We’ve also done some other agency assists where we’ve been out of our jurisdiction in the Johnson and Linn county area to other areas of the state to assist both with drowning victims and ongoing homicide investigations.”
Hartshorn said the team attends training and performs diving practice once a month. Classes are held in the Johnson County Joint Emergency Communication Center, and water-related training has been held in aquatic centers in Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, as well as in the Coralville Reservoir and the Iowa River.
“We try to get a little training in different environments in different types of bodies of water that we may respond to,” Hartshorn said. “We try to get into areas that we may have to go to and dive some day, and it’s nice to do it on our terms and not when we have to learn as we go on a call out.”
Wilson said no local dive team was available to assist the city during the 2008 flood, and the city contracted diving operations through a commercial diving company. Hartshorn said that company has since closed.
Wilson said the responsibilities associated with being a member of the dive team are added to members’ current responsibilities as law enforcement and emergency responders.
“It’s like being part of the SWAT team or bomb team or any of the other specialty teams. It’s other duty as assigned that they’re specifically trained for,” Wilson said.
Reach Andy Davis at 319-887-5404 or at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter as @BylineAndyDavis.