GRFD dives into water rescue role with new team

Grand Rapids

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Firefighters are used to working with water, but not typically under it.

But you wouldn’t know that if you walked into the pool area at Northview High School Tuesday.

“Today, we’re working on the future, I guess you can say,” Grand Rapids Fire Department Capt. Ed Braman said.

It was another day of basic training for Braman and other members of GRFD’s newly formed dive team.

They’re learning how to adjust to the dive gear.

If you think it’s second nature because they wear air tanks into a fire, think again.

“When you go into a fire, it’s pitch black and we don’t see anything. And it’s different going underwater,” Braman said.

“We’re in the infancy stages right now where we’re relearning how to use our new equipment and familiarize ourselves before we start going into places like the rivers where there’s a current and even bigger hazards.”

The team is part of a larger effort by GRFD to improve current water rescue capabilities, especially as plans to restore the Grand River rapids move forward.

In May, News 8 was aboard the department’s new airboat, which provides added capabilities for navigating the Grand River and other waterways.     

Right now, GRFD’s water rescue team is pretty much limited to making saves from above the water line.

“It’s when we have a car into, let’s say one of the gravel pits along I-96, that it’s just far enough in that we need to dive to get in there and search the car appropriately,” Braman said.

Currently, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has the only dive team in Kent County.

But it often takes valuable minutes for the sheriff’s department to arrive at a scene.

“Our engine houses are staffed 24/7, 365. So, we’re just trying, as with everything, up our game,” Braman said. “The more resources that are available in the county, the better for everybody that’s here.”

For now, training will continue at Northview High, which is providing the pool at a low cost to the fire department.

Training will then move on to local lakes, where lower visibilities and more obstacles exist.

Eventually, they’ll train in the Grand River.

There’s no timetable for when the team will be ready.

Team leaders say they want to give everybody as much training as possible to make sure everyone comes out of the water safe.

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