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Hall rescue team hopes for new diving gear
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Firefighter and emergency medical technician Charlie Gorrell, left, unpacks a scuba diving dry suit Monday while firefighter and paramedic Clive Mead looks on at Fire Station 13 on Sardis Road. Hall County Fire Services’ Marine Rescue Team may be receiving new scuba diving suits. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

When thinking of firefighters, underwater rescue isn't what often comes to mind.

But the amphibian firefighters in Hall County Fire Services' Marine Rescue Team also spend time patrolling Lake Lanier.

On Monday, Hall County Fire Services asked the Hall County Board of Commissioners for new scuba diving suits for its marine unit.

Currently, the team of 12 shares six suits, which endure a lot of wear and tear. The commission will vote Thursday on the request.

The dry suits are insulated and have rubber seals to keep out water.

Clive Mead, a member of the Marine Rescue Team, said the suits are used even during the warmer summer months to protect the firefighters' skin.

"We're in the water with dead bodies ... and that's hazardous," Mead said. "It also protects against fuels."

Charlie Gorrell, another member of the team, said at a depth of about 27 feet, the temperature of the water dips to 51 degrees year-round.

"It gets very cold and very dark very quickly," Mead said.

During the summer months, the team is on Lake Lanier every weekend.

"From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., we're out patrolling," Gorrell said.

He said being out on the lake allows the team to respond to accidents quickly. Over the July 4 weekend, Gorrell said the team was able to rescue someone within 12 minutes of receiving the call.

While the unit handles drownings and boating accidents, it also responds to other health emergencies that can occur while people are on the lake, like broken bones or seizures.

During the winter months, the boat and diving equipment the team uses are housed at Fire Station 13 on Sardis Road in northwest Hall.

"We're always ready to respond, even if we're not on the water," Mead said.

The Marine Rescue Team is different from the dive team at the Hall County Sheriff's Office.

In an accident, the Marine Rescue Team is the first to respond and attempts to rescue a person underwater. Because they need to act so quickly, diving must be second nature.

"It's search and rescue techniques once you're in the water," Mead said. "The diving is really secondary."

If the person is not located in 60 minutes, the effort is considered a body recovery and is then handled by divers from the sheriff's office.

"We work really well together," Mead said.

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