THE “SHARK TANK”: LEWISVILLE’S DIVE-RESCUE TRAINING TOOL

BY RICK LASKY

The Lewisville (TX) Fire Department has been in the dive-rescue business since the early 1980s. These members are responsible for the EMS, fire, and rescue services on the 35,000-acre Lake Lewisville, which attracts more than 2.7 million visitors annually. More than 300,000 people live adjacent or have indirect access to the lake, which has marinas, restaurants, and beach areas and plays host to the Bass Masters Tournament and several other large events. It is easily accessible, located a few minutes north of downtown Dallas off I-35E. The team responds to about 300 to 400 calls a year. Over the years, Lewisville’s Dive-Rescue Team has grown to include almost 60 divers, two dive-rescue units, and two fire boats; it serves as the dive team for many communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.


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Photos courtesy of the Lewisville (TX) Fire Department.

The team has seen its share of challenges related to keeping members trained and properly equipped. Fortunately, the city’s administration, the mayor, and the council have provided the team with state-of-the-art equipment and have provided the funds to have team coordinators Captain Todd Staton and Engineer B.A. Reaves certified as Dive Rescue International instructors. Up to now, we have been able to train in our city’s public swimming pools and the lake. As with fire suppression training, it’s nice to be able to train a diver in an environment that is safe and controlled, as in a smoke or burn building, and then graduate to more and more difficult tasks and scenarios, preparing for the real thing in the long run.


Since the tank’s dedication, membership on the Lewisville Dive Team has grown to almost 60.

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DIVE TRAINING CHALLENGES

Most of our dive rescue responses start in the rescue mode; sometimes, they must be switched to the recovery mode. At these times, the divers must operate under the pressure of being observed by the victim’s family members and the public. Adding to the pressures is that diving is extremely dangerous, especially when diving in black water. Our team lost the use of the city’s pools for training when the city, responding to citizens’ requests, converted the city’s swimming pools into water parks for the residents. That left the dive team with only the lake in which to practice. This was satisfactory for our experienced divers but presented obstacles when it came to training the majority of our divers, especially the new team members.


(4)The construction was supervised by Lewisville firefighters and a retired department firefighter who is the superintendent for the pool company.

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(5)Gunite®, because of its durability, was applied to the wall.

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MEETING THE CHALLENGE

One of our dive team captains, Kevin Brule, proposed the construction of a training tool that would enable us to get our divers back into the water more often, and in a controlled environment. The proposal was to build a swimming pool behind our Firehouse 2, which also serves as the main dive-rescue station. Our administration granted the request. We contracted with BMR Pools, owned by two of our firefighters. The pool was designed to be approximately 40 by 25 feet in size and from four to 15 feet deep (photos 4-7). It had a black pebble finish (Gunite®), which presents a little darker atmosphere, and a salt-water filtration system that would be less harsh on the dive gear and equipment than chlorine.


(6)The tank is almost finished. Note the depth of the tank.

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(7) The four-foot section and the stairs are at the same end of the tank.

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(8) This aerial view shows the proximity of the tank to the rear of Lewisville Firehouse 2.

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(9) The amount and variety of dive training that can be accomplished with this tank are pretty much limitless.

All five divers assigned to each shift at Firehouse 2, where the pool is, and divers assigned to the other firehouses can train in the water pretty much any time they want (photo 8). It also provides the team with the opportunity to swim laps and log them. with their other training exercises, in their dive log books (photos 9, 10).


(10) The same “darkening” effect can be accomplished in the dive tank as in a burn building when using a darkened-out face piece drill.

An air fill station was added to Firehouse 2 as well so that the divers do not have to travel to refill their bottles. The other big difference in using this new facility instead of the lake for training is that, when training in the lake, two units had to be placed out of service for a significant time because of the time it took to travel to the lake and the cleanup afterward. Now, the team members for the most part can stay in service and respond with a minor delay, if any (photo 11).


(11) Access to the dive equipment on the dive rescue unit can easily be made through a gate on the side. It also allows the tank to be used for the department’s annual pump testing in the absence of a drafting pit or tank.

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(12) Many department firefighters, the elected officials, and the media attended the dedication ceremonies.

Probably the biggest challenge was to get the troops to call the pool the “Shark Tank” instead of the “pool.” At a time when many city departments are under the microscope, we didn’t want to leave anyone with the idea that money was spent to build a recreational pool behind the firehouse. So, we call it “Shark Tank,” and it has given our divers the opportunity to practice their diving skills much more often than in the past. Most are diving three to four times as much, and their skills are improving (photos 12-14). The dive team coordinator has them training on their skills so that if they should get in trouble while underwater, it will be second nature for them to get themselves out of harm’s way.


(13) The dedication plaque.

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(14) Media members at the dedication were given a training demonstration, which more than justified to the public the need for the tank.

For information on the Shark Tank’s design and cost, contact Firefighter Rick Donoghue at rdonoghu@cityoflewisville.com or Battalion Chief Mike Lindley at mlindley@cityoflewisville.com. For information on the Lewisville Fire Department Dive-Rescue Team, contact Captain Todd Staton at bstaton@cityoflewisville.com.

RICK LASKY, a 25-year veteran of the fire service, is chief of the Lewisville (TX) Fire Department. He began his career as a firefighter in the suburbs on the southwest side of Chicago and while in Illinois received the 1996 International Society of Fire Service Instructors “Innovator of the Year” award for his part in developing the “Saving Our Own” program. He is the co-lead instructor for the H.O.T. Firefighter Survival program at FDIC and served in the same capacity at FDIC East. He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and serves on the FDIC advisory board. He is the author of the “Pride and Ownership: Love for the Job” leadership series featured in Fire Engineering.

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