TAWAS CITY – Just shy of three months ago, city council members gave their stamp of approval for the Tawas City Fire Department (TCFD) to establish a Water Rescue/Dive Rescue-Recovery Team. Since that time, the community has expressed its support for the endeavor, with the donations to date totaling approximately $35,000.
Several different fundraisers were held and contribution commitments made, as has been reported in this publication. Most recently, those from USG in Alabaster Township gifted the team with a $5,000 check, which they presented at the fire hall on Nov. 5.
The USG Foundation awards annual grants to nonprofit organizations in the communities where USG operates, through its Give Local Program, and the Tawas City Dive Team was chosen as the 2021 recipient.
“The Tawas City Fire Department works hard to keep our community safe,” said USG Manager Matt Craig. “In a region defined by water, this new program will help firefighters save lives and respond to emergencies. We are proud to support the firefighters and this new program.”
“Firefighters are front-line first responders to all kinds of emergencies,” said TCFD Chief Steve Masich. “We are grateful to the group within the fire department who proposed and pushed for us to expand into this new underwater program, and to the city council for its support of the idea. Having a trained underwater response crew requires a lot of training and equipment, and USG’s contribution to the cause will help us build this highly skilled unit.”
The dive team was also promoted on Oct. 31, during the annual Halloween Trunk or Treat event hosted by the Tawas Bay Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE) in East Tawas.
In a fundraiser which Masich says was spearheaded by the FOE Ladies Auxiliary President, Courtney Jones, a large gift basket was raffled off in order to benefit the dive team startup. Through the sales of the tickets, the organization was able to raise $1,265.
A couple days prior to this, on Oct. 29, Shane Redfield presented the dive team with a new underwater sonar system. The AquaEye brand device was accepted at the fire hall by Masich and TCFD Assistant Chief Jeff Seyfried.
Redfield and Gregory Shock organized an online GoFundMe page to help purchase the equipment and, with the donations which came in for this goal, approximately $5,000 was raised. The AquaEye cost about $5,500, so Redfield’s company, Redfield Construction, pitched in the remainder of the cost.
“This, alone, will save so much time,” he explained of the handheld AquaEye, which can scan a two-acre area under the water and also has a heat signature feature.
As noted in the fundraiser information, this equipment is used to assist in finding missing persons in the water – resulting in possible rescue, rather than a recovery. The advanced scanner utilizes the latest in ultrasound and artificial intelligence technologies to identify human bodies under water. It enables rescuers to quickly access a scene, either shore-based or by vessel, and identify potential victims promptly. The AquaEye also allows a rescuer to search a greater area in less time, and may reduce the need for additional recovery resources.
Masich shared that the dive team would be trying out the sonar system this past weekend, when they took part in their open water training at Higgins Lake.
This latest boost from Redfield Construction is in addition to the $10,000 donation the company gave to the Tawas City Dive Team.
As reported, Redfield had made the contribution commitment and – shortly after the Tawas City Council officially approved the establishment of the dive team – he and his family presented the check at the fire hall on Sept. 2. The funds will be used to help offset some of the training and equipment expenses for the team.
Echoing statements which have also been made by council members and those from the TCFD, the Redfields say there have been too many water tragedies in the area – including the drowning of a young girl this summer in Lake Huron, while she was at family gathering at Tawas Point State Park in East Tawas.
“Our history shows that our numbers are creeping up as far as water tragedies, both on top of the water and underwater,” Masich has told council members.
He, Redfield and city officials have also pointed out that the only other existing dive team in Iosco County, the Oscoda Township Fire Department Underwater Rescue & Recovery Team, is a 20-minute drive away – which doesn’t include the time it takes for the personnel to get to their fire station.
“As we receive donations it will enable us to purchase diving equipment and receive certified training for each dive personnel,” Masich stated.
Members of the Tawas City Dive Team have already engaged in several training events and have also acquired some of the necessary gear. The group has been making strides in its development but there is still more training required, as is the purchase of additional equipment. Donations will continue to be accepted for the needs of the dive team and one way to contribute is through the GoFundMe page, at https://gofund.me/83ff170b.