conn. dive teams take to the ice, practicing rescue and recovery

Guilford and Middletown dive teams train on how to save people from perilous situations below the ice.

GUILFORD, Conn. — During a frigid Friday on an ice-covered Guilford lake, a team of first responders from the Guilford Fire Department and the Middletown Fire Department joined forces for a training mission that could only be described as extreme.

The teams were working on their certifications for ice diving, where they often cut a hole into a frozen lake or pond and then send divers to either make a rescue or a recovery.

“It is super technical and it’s one of the more dangerous things we’re involved in,” said Captain Clint Haverkampf, a 20-year veteran with the Guilford Fire Department who helped oversee the training.

With a team of line tenders, crew leaders on the radio, and the divers themselves, there are only a select few departments across Connecticut that have certified ice divers among their ranks.

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Lieutenant Marc Fongemie is a Middletown firefighter who has been a dive team member for the past ten years.

“It’s a very surreal experience,” Fongemie said after emerging from under about five inches of ice at a small local lake. “It’s a totally different level but it’s gratifying to know we have this skill.”

More often than not, the divers and the line tenders have to deal with the reality that their work is for recovery rather than for a rescue, but the ice does provide responders some added time to make a save.

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Lieutenant Joe Bajorski, from Middletown, said, “There is something called ‘The Golden Hour’ – in cold water temperatures, a human can survive up to an hour post submersion, so we try to get them extracted in a timely basis to get that victim out and to the hospital as quickly as possible.”

Captain Haverkampf added, “One hundred percent, seconds count, that’s why we practice, and repetition becomes so important.”

Jimmy Altman is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at jaltman@fox61.com† Follow him on facebook Twitter and Instagram

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