Photo courtesy of Pat Nelson. Brett Duling trains diver in Horseshoe Lake
“What’s going on in Horseshoe Lake?” I asked my husband recently on a beautiful 68° Sunday. I didn’t expect to see anyone in the water, but three bare-chested boys in shorts were swimming and splashing as though they thought it was the middle of summer rather than the middle of October.I saw other action nearby and grabbed my binoculars for a closer look. There was a diver in the lake in black gear, and ripples nearby that indicated another diver underwater. A few people, most in orange vests, stood on shore watching the divers; a pickup loaded with gear sat in the parking area behind them. I noticed a rope stretched from one of the men onshore to the underwater diver. The three boys kept right on swimming and playing nearby, and there were no emergency vehicles in sight, so I decided everything was OK. I was curious, though, so I drove over to Horseshoe Lake Park and approached the group. A lady named Angela Duling greeted me and introduced herself. “Is this a rescue group?” I asked.“Yes,” she replied. “We’re part of the Cowlitz County Dive Rescue Team, and we’re training Shawna Hood to do underwater searches.”She motioned to the other people on shore. “We’re line tenders,” she said. “See that rope that he’s holding?” she asked, pointing to a man on shore. “It’s attached to the diver. We’re mimicking a search in zero visibility for a stolen gun and we’re using an underwater communications system so the line tender can talk to her.” Most of the time, Angela told me, divers must search with their hands because they can’t see. She explained that the line tender uses the rope to control the search pattern. “Right now, she said, “they’re using an arc- sweep pattern to cover more area. The line tender is responsible for the diver’s safety while she’s under the water.”Before getting the underwater communications system, the line tender and diver could only communicate through tugs on the line: three tugs meant the diver had found something. Thanks to a generous donation, the Cowlitz County Dive Rescue Team has now purchased new communication equipment that allows the line tenders to talk to the divers underwater. Special facemasks are required, and the team is trying to save enough money to buy masks for the whole team of divers, replacing the old-style mouthpieces that don’t allow the diver to talk.All members of the team are volunteers; they provide their services free of charge. They purchase most of their own equipment, including scuba outfits that usually range from $3000 to $5000. There are dry suits and wet suits; dry suits, which insulate the diver from the water, are necessary during dives in water contaminated with chemicals or disease-causing agents. The team sometimes helps the Sheriff’s office remove abandoned cars dumped into rivers and lakes so that they do not contaminate the water with petroleum products. Each time a vehicle is located in a body of water, the team must treat it as a crime scene until proven otherwise.Sometimes, divers must use extra weights to sink to the bottom, or to keep swift water from carrying them out of the search area. Angela told me, “Soon it will be winter and we will train at night. Usually, we do searches in the dark, looking for stolen vehicles or vehicles in the water.”“What do you do for lighting?” I asked.“Search and Rescue has a huge spotlight on a generator. They dispatch it to us,” she said.Angela has been a part of the group for five years, and is secretary. Husband Brett Duling has been president since 2001, but has been part of the team since 1999.There are eleven divers and seven surface-support members. The team trains with the Cowlitz County Search and Rescue Team, local fire departments, and law enforcement agencies so that all will be able to work well together during emergencies. For information on volunteering, donating, or sponsoring, visit their website at www.cowlitzdiverrescue.com or contact:
Cowlitz County Dive Rescue Team
c/o Department of Emergency Management
312 SW 1st St.
Kelso, WA 98626