The City of Mercer Island is centrally located in Lake Washington, between the cities of Seattle and Bellevue. Surrounded by water, it is witness to a growing population and activity level on the lake. By virtue of this fact, it has necessitated the need for water rescue and recovery services.
The Mercer Island Department of Public Safety provides water rescue and recovery services to, and adjacent to the City of Mercer Island. The team was created in 1976 within the Mercer Island Police Department. Originally there were 8 Police Divers. Primarily the Police Department provided recovery and investigative services. In 1985, the Mercer Island Fire Division was added to the dive team to create a Department of Public Safety Dive Team. Collectively each group brings the strengths of their profession to the team, enhancing the services available to the community.
The team is comprised of 6 firefighters and 6 police officers who are certified as Rescue Divers. These individuals train monthly to maintain their skills. Additionally members are required to complete a medical exam every other year, and be certified as fit for diving by a physician qualified in hyperbaric medicine. Team members must also qualify annually by successfully completing an extensive swimming test.
Dive operations are a complex technical service. Each operation requires a thorough risk/benefit analysis. This process is completed prior to divers entering the water. It is essential to determine if the mode is rescue, recovery, investigation or other. Mercer Island's dive team has an extensive set of policies that cover water related incidents.
One of the most difficult aspects of dive operations within Lake Washington is in regards to visibility and communication. Divers must rely on a carefully orchestrated dive plan and communications in limited visibility is accomplished by hand and rope signals. Recently the team was able to purchase two sets of wireless underwater communication gear. This has greatly increased the safety and efficiency of dive operations. The team plans on adding a unit for each team member.
Mercer Island Dive Team members are continually improving their skill levels. This can be very challenging due to a limited budget. With existing resources this is accomplished by monthly training, and by adding new skills through ongoing outside instruction, such as the NOAA program at Sand Point, and dive speciality courses through DRI. Team members are required to maintain their recreational certifications and additionally are required to receive certification in the Rescue 1 program though DRI. The team is working towards certifying all members through the NOAA program, and DRI's underwater investigators program.
Mercer Island not only provides this service to the jurisdictional waters surrounding Mercer Island, but will respond to a request for services from other agencies. In conjunction with dive operations, the Fire Division has certified all fire personnel as surface water technicians. These firefighters are capable of providing shallow water, (12 feet or less), rescue and recovery support.
Mercer Island divers can travel by land utilizing a dive trailer, or by water. The Mercer Island Police Division provides a marine patrol service in Lake Washington. There are currently two vessels in the Department's inventory. Patrol 11 is a 30 foot Almar, and includes a 375gpm pump to assist in fire operations. Patrol 12 is a 23 foot SAFE boat. Both vessels provide an excellent platform to facilitate dive operations, and can rapidly respond and arrive at all rescue operations.
There are several other dive agencies in the area. The Mercer Island Police / Fire Dive team is continually working to foster and improve these relationships. No one agency has the resources to support a large dive incident by themselves. Other regional resources include: Renton Fire Department, Seattle Fire and Seattle Police Departments, Auburn Fire Department, and King County Sheriffs Office.
Links to Dive Teams and Water & Boating Safety
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