Preston County

Dive team recruits new members

KINGWOOD — With the help of the county fire levy, the Preston County Dive Team is recruiting new members and expanding its mission to serve the public.

The team got its start in the mid-1990s, when volunteer firefighters Scott Spiker and Jim Darlington were at a suspected drowning.

It took six hours for the nearest dive team to arrive. After that, the two men bought wetsuits and began practicing diving in the Cheat River.

According to The Dominion Post archives, in August 2000, seven divers were trained and approached the Preston County Commission to request funding. They wanted to buy an inflatable raft, a used vehicle, two dry suits and an underwater camera.

Then, state  Del. Larry Williams helped by obtaining a state grant that funded purchase of a trailer, underwater communication devices, a 12-foot rubber raft, dry suits and some scuba gear.

Funding for equipment is still an issue, but the fire levy passed by county voters has proved a blessing. Each year, the county fire association receives money that can go for equipment, training and other needs.

“We’re very, very thankful to the voters,” long-time dive team member and volunteer firefighter Craig Barlow said.

The dive team also received donations from the Terra Alta VFW and Kingwood Eagles.

Each team member buys his or her own diving equipment, at a cost of up to $2,000 per person.

All except the newest recruits have basic, advanced and rescue level training.

Recruitment is ongoing.

“We need some younger, energetic people,” Spiker said.

They also hope to have members in each of the county’s volunteer fire departments, in order to cut response times.  Albright, Kingwood, Masontown, Reedsville, Rowlesburg and Tunnelton are represented.

Seven new members started training in November, doubling the size of the team.

They underwent a five-week course of classroom and water work, using the pool at Camp Dawson and culminating with a swim test in 29-degree water at Mount Storm Lake.

The training was made possible through the fire levy, Spiker said. Basic training and certification costs $475 per person.

Chuck Curtis is one of the new members. “The more you train, the more it becomes second nature,” he said.

Numbers are also important, because a rescue diver is supposed to be ready to go out of the water for each diver in the water.

The team gets called out about five times each year. Not all its work is water searches and rescues. Divers also recover evidence underwater and have an underwater metal detector to help.

Follow Preston Dive Team on Facebook. Anyone interested in joining the team can contact Spiker at 304-212-8952 or attend a county fire association meeting at 7 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month at the Preston 911 center.