By Jayson Knight
Grady County Emergency Management is responsible for several different aspects of maintaining county residents’ safety.
GCEM Director Dale Thompson provides weekly updates to the Grady County Board of Commissioners about potential threats, or emergencies county personnel have had to respond to in the previous week.
Another one of his duties is maintaining the Grady County Dive Team, which consists of several citizens throughout the county, including Thompson himself.
“Technically, yes, I’m a certified diver,” Thompson said Monday, October 23. “I just don’t have quite as much of the rescue training as the main team does. Mainly, I’m just the head of the team, through my office. I have a captain, which is Gary Redburn, and Chuck Berryhill, my lieutenant, and they just oversee everything. So, technically, I haven’t been in the water in several years, but I’m technically a certified diver as well.”
Thompson started the dive team originally in 2008.
“I got a small grant from the OEC Foundation and there were four of us originally,” Thompson said. “They got certified divers. We hired a place out of Oklahoma City that does a lot of work with some of the area fire departments in Edmond. And at that time, they came down and conducted our classroom and our dive training and everything at the pool at Shannon Springs Park. And then when we went for our certification test, we went down to Lake Murray down by Ardmore and there were four of us. We had myself, and three people from county fire departments. We were the first four, and we just purchased some used gear at that time, and it just kind of went from there. We had a few calls when we first started, but not very much, because most everybody would call the OHP Dive Team. We’ve been trying to get the word out there for several years that we’ve got this team that consists of all volunteers. Several of us have some law enforcement training. When it comes to the training, especially the team now, they’ve got a lot more than I do. When it comes to evidence recovery, or a body recovery, because it could be a legal thing, the team knows how to preserve evidence and what to look for.”The dive team is often deployed to recover vehicles from bodies of water throughout the county. Most recently a vehicle was recovered from Chickasha Lake.
“We’ve had several vehicle recoveries,” Thompson said. “It’s been a few years, but we’ve had one or two body recoveries from area ponds. We had one up in the Bridge Creek area where an older man was riding a horse and fell off into a pond, and I think he had a medical episode, and we had to end up recovering that body. We don’t get very many calls, but you still have to train anyway. They train once a month every third Saturday of every month. They do some kind of training, whether it’s in the water or they’ll do some classroom stuff, but most of the time it’s hands on. They went down to Elmer Thomas Lake last weekend, down by Elgin, training rope skills.”
The team now consists of Redburn, Berryhill, Shana Berryhill, Michael Dunn, Casper Spurlin, James Brunson, Steve Venz, and Teresa Dunn.
Shana Berryhill is a law enforcement officer with the City of Tuttle. She said of the Lake Murray training, “It was pretty chilly. We had to navigate to a certain location under water, find the bag that contained some PVC Pipe and other pieces, and build a cube with them underwater. It was an exercise on navigation, following direction, communication, team work, and dexterity. Aside from the cold, it was a lot of fun!”
Thompson said the dive team has traditionally used the USAO pool during the winter months, but that might not be possible this year.
“They’ve (USAO) got some maintenance issues at the pool down there so they had to close it,” Thompson said. “Chuck Berryhill told the group recently, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get wet suits and dry suits, and cold weather stuff.’ They still train in the cold water, so they’ll probably be doing some cold weather dives while they’re doing the training sometime this year. We’ve been able to get most everybody on the team a dry suit through our budget. Most of the equipment that they buy, it’s their own personal gear. Our office has supplied some air tanks and some equipment for them, including communications equipment. We’ve never really had a fundraiser for them per se. I’ve been wanting to look into that, and see about it. We have an account set up just for the dive team if we can get some donations or something like that. Most of them have their own gear with the exception of what little bit our office provides.”
Those interested in donating to the Grady County Dive Team can contact the Grady County Emergency Management Office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 405-222-2339.