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Going off the deep end
Great Bend firefighters practice rescue diving
gbfd dive train main pic
Great Bend Fire Department Capt. Jim Schmeidler helps GBFD divers Braden Cox while fellow Diver Garrett Tindall prepares for his practice dive Thursday morning at Stone Lake. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

No, no one drowned in Stone Lake Wednesday.

Sure, there was a presence of Great Bend Fire Department equipment and personnel in scuba gear at the lake Wednesday and Thursday mornings. But, Captain Jim Schmeidler said the firefighters were there for training.

“We have four new divers,” he said. “We’re just getting them acclimated with our equipment.”

The quartet joins the department’s eight other experienced divers. Wearing flippers, air tanks, masks, weights and other gear, the veterans stood at the shore’s edge with the newbies, giving them last-minute pointers before they submerged into the murky green water.

First, the new divers took an open-water diving class at Barton Community College. “Then, when they are able to dive, we teach them the rescue diving,” said Schmeidler, who was helping with the instruction.

This is not a simple process.

“The water is really muddy,” said fellow instructor Captain Eric Yoder. “Visibility can be three feet or less. Sometimes you are going only by feel.”

And, he said, its about more than training for those under the surface. In these poor conditions, often the only communication they have with those up top is via tugs on a rope connected to their diving rigs.

“So, the guys on the shore have to know what is going on as well,” Yoder said.

The beginners were not the only ones getting wet, Schmeidler said. They schedule four practice dives each year so all 12 divers can hone their skills and stay sharp.

In addition, he said the department just purchased new dry suits for winter diving. At some point, they will go to a swimming pool and work with these.

“We just want to be ready when needed,” Schmeidler said.