FREDERICKTOWN — The Fredericktown Community Fire District was recently awarded grant funding for the purchase of sonar imaging equipment for the dive rescue program at the FCFD. A partnership with The Ariel Foundation in Mount Vernon made funding for the equipment and training possible.
“We are pleased to be able to partner on this special project,” said Jen Odenweller, executive director of The Ariel Foundation. “Having quick access to the most reliable equipment is critical in a county where we are fortunate to have so many different types of bodies of water, including those that are quite deep and water systems that move swiftly.”
The FCFD has been looking at this upgrade for the last couple years in order to improve operations, knowing there was better equipment out there in use by other departments.
“We are blessed and grateful for The Ariel Foundation’s generosity towards fulfilling our grant request which will benefit everyone within Knox County and throughout the surrounding areas,” said Chief Scott Mast. “It would most likely have been several more years before we could have made this purchase.”
Approved for purchase by the foundation were two separate types of sonar that will be in use by rescuers during a rescue or recovery mission. A side/down scan sonar with two linked screens and a 360-degree sonar with its own screen. The newer side/down scan sonar will give rescuers a much more detailed image below the surface while moving. Two screens will allow the boat operator to focus on navigating waypoints and seeing information, while the other screen can be viewed by other rescuers focused only on the underwater imagery and analyzing data.
Once the boat is stopped, a 360-degree scanning sonar is lowered into the water to allow a live view of objects and divers as they work underwater. Prior to the FCFD having a “360” sonar, once divers were deployed and the boat remained in that area, audio communication was the only way those on the surface could tell what was going on. Now with the new sonar there is an additional safety factor and divers can better be directed to targets that have been marked.
“Our general dive operation policy is to not randomly deploy divers to “free dive,” said Chief Mast. “In the effort to maintain maximum diver safety, we attempt to identify a target and then deploy the divers to extricate it from the water.”
The grant doesn’t just have a positive impact on our fire district, but rather Knox County and wherever we are called for a dive mission through mutual-aid.
“Being one of the two organized dive teams in Knox County, we are always willing to provide our technology and manpower to any agency to assist with water related incidents,” said Chief Mast. “This also extends outside of our county to anyone in need. This is a specialized operation that very few departments across Ohio provide.”
Equipment purchased through this grant award will replace out of date sonar that had limited features and old technology which the fire district has had in service since 2009. Technology has changed greatly, enabling new sonar to have a higher definition image, faster refresh rate, and the ability to see underwater like never before.
“Our initial testing of the new sonar system has demonstrated a dramatic increase in the quality of images we are seeing under the water,” said Chief Mast. “This should help to greatly expedite the amount of time it takes to locate a target.”
Numerous divers and other firefighters have had the boat on the water several times over the last few weeks since the system was installed in order to test and become familiar with it before an upcoming dive and training. As a part of the grant, training will be provided for the new systems that have been installed on the boat. Instructors will be working with the fire district on Oct. 26 in an all-day seminar to prepare our members to use the system effectively and efficiently.
The FCFD has a total of six certified divers, along with firefighters trained as dive tenders and boat operators.