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A dark and cold place
Warwick Beacon photos
SCRAMBLING TO GET OUT: His mask frosted, Faucher thrashes to get out of the water.

Cold.

Rescue Captain John Faucher was equipped to deal with that. He wore fleece inner clothing under a dry suit with neoprene gloves and a rubber hood that tightly encased his head,

It was the darkness that Faucher hadn’t anticipated.

“With all the snow on the ice, you couldn’t see,” he said between short breaths.

Faucher’s voice echoed, sounding mechanical. Still wearing his mask and air regulator, he looked like Darth Vader. He sat on a plastic box filled with diving gear close to the hole he emerged from under 6-inch ice covering Sandy Pond behind Vets High School.

Faucher said he was trained to wait for the pressure to squeeze air from his suit when he entered the water so that he might slowly sink to the bottom without having to stir the water.

Usually, explained Lt. Chris LeClair, who also made a training dive Tuesday morning, “a body will be straight down [from where they fell through the ice].” LeClair said the water is chilling, but one needs to be prepared.

“If you have equipment failure, you have to get out real quick,” he said.

Faucher and LeClair were tethered to two buddies on the ice who kept a slight tension on the line while their companions were below. Four hard jerks on the tether signaled that the subject of the search, a weighted dummy, had been located.

Deputy Chief Frank Colantonio, who is in charge of training, said Wednesday that all 22 men on the department’s dive team will complete through the ice dives this week. Team members will be out again today, and over the weekend.

Colantonio said safety procedures are carefully followed even for training drills.

“Things can go wrong and accidents have happened during drills,” he said.

As an example, a guide rope could become unattached.

Should that happen, the diver is trained to stop swimming and head up to the ice. He is to wait there while the “safety diver,” the second man suited up and ready to go, swims in widening arcs around the hole in which case either he or his lifeline will come in contact with the “lost” diver.

On his dive, Faucher didn’t immediately find the weighted dummy. He swam in circles, feeling along the bottom. His movement stirred up silt and cut down on what little visibility there was. He came across an aluminum beer can and other debris before locating the dummy. He had been in the water about 10 minutes.

Then came the tough part – getting out.

Faucher’s buddy, Pvt. Bill Alsfeld, took up the slack on the line. Faucher’s gloved hands found no grip on the ice. Alsfeld braced himself and pulled. Faucher was wearing 60 pounds of equipment. He kicked hard and slowly rolled onto the surface, lying still for a moment to catch his breath.

Next it was LeClair. The process was repeated. This time, LeClair took a line with him that he secured to the dummy and it was brought to the surface.

Chief Edmund Armstrong said Wednesday that not everyone trains to dive but the full department does ice training. The process involves wearing a survival suit and pushing a floating sled out onto the ice. Those pushing the sled are tethered to a buddy who remains close to shore.

“We do it in January and February,” said the chief.

Asked why he didn’t plan the training for warmer weather, maybe August, he quipped, “We tried it but it didn’t work.”


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