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Diving into trouble: Team is ready when tragedy strikes

At this time of year, one wouldn't expect to find too much action on any of the frozen lakes around the county.

But just in case someone does fall through the ice, the Douglas County Dive Team is trained and certified to come to the rescue.

During a bad blizzard last month, eight members of the Douglas County Dive Team, along with other rescue personnel from around the state and some from Wisconsin, participated in a three-day training seminar geared toward diving under the ice.

The first day of the seminar included classroom time and basic skills work in the pool at Discovery Middle School.

Divers checked their equipment to make sure it was functioning properly and made sure they were comfortable in their gear.

On the second day, divers took to the icy waters of Lake Latoka - despite the blizzard swirling around them.

According to Greg Windhurst, water patrol supervisor and a sergeant for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, despite the nasty conditions above the ice, diving under it was quiet and peaceful.

"It was actually a real fun dive," he said.

During the winter months, noted Windhurst, lakes are a lot cleaner and the visibility greatly increases because of the lack of activity. He said that lakes have time to settle during the winter months.

When diving under the ice, rescuers have to rely heavily on rope signals, which are a part of the training.

In the summer months or when there is open water, divers can surface wherever they want. In the winter months, when the lakes are frozen solid, however, there is usually only one way in and one way out.

Because divers have ropes attached to them when diving under the ice, they need to know what signals to use in emergency situations.

"Everyone did really well and it was a good learning experience - for the rookie on up to the experienced diver," said Windhurst.

The Douglas County Dive Team trains year-round, said Windhurst, because they could be called out anytime - spring, summer, fall or even in the dead of winter.

The divers had to take written tests on the third day of the seminar, which everyone passed, said Windhurst.

Last summer, the divers completed a three-day course geared toward public safety.

"The ice diving was just the next phase of training we needed for our team," said Windhurst.

One of the next training seminars he is trying to get for the dive team is geared toward floods and fast-moving water.

The winter training was conducted by Steve Wilson, who works for Dive Rescue International out of Colorado. Wilson, who lives in Mississippi, is a dive team leader and has been an instructor for the past 20 years. He is also a firefighter and police officer.