Less than a month after , creating a stir among some members of the team as well as some surrounding districts, the East Hampton Townwide Dive Team held its first drill without any divers from the former squad.
And of four dummies who went underwater in the drill — a simulation of a drunk boater running into a group of swimmers after swerving past a group of stand-up paddleboarders — only three were recovered by divers.
"We exhausted our divers to the point where we needed more in the water," said Rich Kalbacher, the captain of East Hampton Ocean Rescue, which ran the drill on Sunday morning at Fresh Pond in Amagansett. Kalbacher added that in the previous drill EHOR participated in since it joined the Townwide Dive Team in 2011, both bodies were recovered.
"It would've been nice to have a few more divers," he said.
Despite the lack in numbers of divers, Gerry Turza, overseer of the East Hampton Fire Department's Dive team, said those present still performed as expected.
"When you take away one team, you lose a lot of resources you could’ve used," he said. "As far as operationally, the guys that were there did a great job. We have to maintain a high safety standard. All of the divers came out of the water, nobody got hurt."
The Bridgehampton Fire District commissioners voted unanimously in May to disband the 13-person dive team, which had five divers at the time it was dissolved. At the direction of the chiefs, the district determined that the risk in putting a Bridgehampton dive team in the water was too much to consider continuing the operation, considering the odds of performing rescue versus recovery operations.
"The risk versus reward ratio is far too high," stated a letter signed by Chief Timothy Doran, First Assistant Chief Gary Horsburg and Second Assistant Chief Thomas Jenkins. "It would be a great tragedy to injure or kill a member of our Department in such a high risk, low potential reward situation. For both personal reasons and legal reasons, this is a liability that the Chiefs are unwilling to bear."
On Sunday, Sag Harbor's dive team was reportedly unavailable for the drill operation, taking a safety course of its own, resulting in four divers of the East Hampton Townwide Dive Team — a collaboration between all dive team operations in town created in 2010 — on scene for Sunday morning's call.
East Hampton Townwide Dive Team President John Healey — himself a former chief in and captain of the dive team before it was disbanded — said the lack of divers was noticeable, and it's not typical for bodies in a simulated drill to not be recovered. Though he did note the dummies used in last weekend's drill were cinder blocks — as opposed to larger dummies sometimes used to more closely resemble a human, a point Turza added as well.
"The efficiency factor was horrible, because there were not enough divers," Healey said. "If we had a real call on Sunday, and Sag Harbor's dive team was unavailable, the fact is we need more divers, not less."
Kalbacher said that those who dove, dove in shifts for about 45 minutes until exhaustion kicked in. Each diver can dive for 15 minutes until policy mandates that a shift be made, and divers be checked by an EMT.
While Bridgehampton's new district policy disbanded its dive team, Healey expressed further frustration at the fact that three Bridgehampton Fire Department members — all ex-members of the dive team — were present for the drill, when the chiefs stated in their letter that the department's rescue squad would be requested to take over other operations with the townwide dive team, such as tenders and handlers for divers.
But Horsburgh said none of the chiefs were given enough notice to make proper plans to be available for the drill.
"Everybody is trying to make us sound like the bad guy, but we're really not," he said on Thursday. "We never got confirmation on the drill. You can't call on Sunday morning, when the drill is Sunday morning."
Healey said he announced the drill at the monthly town chiefs' meeting last Tuesday, and followed up with an email — to local fire chiefs, police departments, and rescue squads — later in the week.
As far as the fourth drill victim who was never recovered — or at least, recovered before dive team commanders determined they didn't have the manpower to continue operations — Kalbacher said that while an individual's life might be lost, he or she shouldn't be left behind due to a dearth of divers.
"We could've searched for another two hours and found the victim," he said. "We didn't have enough divers to do the searching ... Even if you are a victim, and you're dead, I think it's nice for your family to know you've been found. It gives a piece of mind."