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HUDSON, Ill. (AP) — The Hudson dive team typically doesn’t perform flooding rescues, but this hasn’t been a typical year.
“Down in McLean, we had a semi in a creek that all you could see was about that much of the exhaust sticking out,” said Bob Wills, training officer for the MABAS Division 41 water rescue dive team, holding his hands about a foot apart. “And the driver was sit- ting on top of the cab.”
Near the semi, which was swept off the roadway during the June storms, a woman was clinging to a tree awaiting rescue.
The MABAS, or Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, team, which is stationed at the Hudson Fire Protection District, is the only all-volunteer dive team in Illinois, and as a Homeland Security asset, the team can be called to assist with water-related disasters nationwide, The
Pantagraph of Bloomington reports.
Scott Voorhees, dive team leader, said most of their calls are recoveries, whether that’s evidence for criminal cases, abandoned vehicles or, most often, bodies.
“We don’t normally get rescues, but this year has been a little unusual,” he said. “On occasion, with the spring floods that nor- mally come through, we might get called to a dif- ferent area to assist with evacuation or whatever the needs are. … But in general flooding’s not our normal call.”
One of those unusual cases was in Heyworth, where a semi truck was washed off the road this summer with the driver still inside.
“We had to dispatch a boat through the cornfield to go get him out of the truck,” Wills said.
The team is a state resource, made up of about 30 members, including certified public
safety divers, boat operators, sonar operators, swift water technicians, paramedics and EMTs, with several of those cross-trained across disciplines.
The majority of the state’s dive teams are in the Chicago or St. Louis areas, so “we cover basically everything from Interstate 80 south in Illinois,” Wills said. “If there’s water, that’s where we go.”
They receive some funding from MABAS, but the team also depends on community donations, like a $1,500 grant from Country Financial’s Operation Helping Heroes program last year.
“When you’re diving at the bottom of a lake dig- ging around in the mud, the wear and tear that the suits go through — they need repairs and that costs lots of money to keep that updated,” said Al Engel, team leader for dive operations and a diver with 30 years experience.
The dive leaders said all of the water they go into is black.
“No visibility. It’s all feel, crawling through the mud, sticks, logs,” Wills said.
That’s why when they train in clear water, like a pool, divers wear blacked out masks to practice for the darkness they’ll find at the bottom of Lake Bloomington or other bod- ies of water.
“Depending on the depth of the water, we always time our divers to know how long they’ve been underwater,” Engel said. “That gives us an idea of how much air they still have in their scuba tanks because they can’t see their gauges underwa- ter — it’s too dark to see.”
Their monthly training varies with everything from boating and sonar operations to ice recovery.
Some training includes a blonde named Olivia, a specially-designed mannequin that weighs about
110 pounds on land but only about 15 pounds underwater, since humans will float in water, Engel said.
The dive team also works with several emergency agencies, including K9 units, with trained res- cue and cadaver dogs that can help divers recover bodies.
As a volunteer team, Engel said, they’re always looking for new members. Since the team leadership is associated with Midwest Diving Specialists in Normal, they also help with scuba training and instruction.