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First responder agencies come together for inaugural rescue dive challenge

Posted at 9:32 AM, Sep 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-12 12:02:19-04

PUNTA GORDA, Fl. — Multiple law enforcement agencies competed in the Inaugural First Responder Dive Team Challenge over the weekend.

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office hosted the event which tested every skill from navigation to putting equipment together as a team.

Teams from as far as Seminole County to Collier County came out for the challenge.

Lt. Brent Hertenlehner with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office said he got this idea from competitions back in his S.W.A.T. days.

“It’s the culture," he explained. "Dive didn’t really have that culture, and I thought it would be a good idea to at least start it.”

Fresh out of the water from the second challenge, Battalion Chief Matt McElroy with Charlotte County Fire and EMS provided a quick time check.

“We just participated in the lift bag event and currently, knock on wood, we’re holding the top time for that just shy of nine minutes,” he said.

While the divers took the competition seriously, it wouldn’t be a competition without a little smack talk.

“We're trying to keep it rated “G" for a good time," McElroy joked.

Many of the divers during the competition complained that the visibility underwater wasn't great.

“The first team that went through probably had about a foot of visibility", said Hertenlehner. "The second could probably barely see out of the front of their mask.”

The water only gets cloudier as more divers get in to complete the five planned events.

Dive Coordinator Robert Loewel with Collier Fire and Rescue said the conditions shouldn't impact the teams too much as they resemble ones they deal with while trying to save lives.

“This is what we train for," Loewel said, "but this has been a great event for the community to come out and see what we’re capable of doing.”

Event coordinators paid close attention to the weather in the area — storms and lightning would mean they would have to cancel the rest of the competition.

Rain or shine, Hertenlehner said the event was about bringing the community and the different agencies together.

“To work along these teams and be out here with them and see their capabilities and they see ours," said Hertenlehner. "It just builds trust, and in the diving world, that is essential.”

Some adjustments were made to the competition because of the weather, but thankfully the event continued once the rain cleared out.

All the proceeds from the event benefited the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches. CCSO hopes this will be the first of many dive challenge events in the future.