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Imperial County, Mexicali dive teams work on saving lives together

July 06, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer
  • Sgt. Manuel Garcia of the Imperial County Sheriff's Office pulls a neck brace off Lucio Sanchez Ayon, a volunteer scuba diver for the Mexicali Fire Department, after Mexicali divers received diving equipment from Imperial County officials. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO
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Imperial County Sheriff's Office officials and Mexicali firefighters met Thursday to start the process of working together on rescues or recoveries from local canals.

Mexicali firefighters recently have been diving into American canals searching for bodies of Mexicali residents, said Sheriff's Office Sgt. Manuel Garcia.

Kerry Van Bebber, Imperial Irrigation District supervisor for security claims and investigations, said the problem is Imperial County authorities don't know how well-trained the Mexicali divers are, although all are from the Mexicali Fire Department.

"We want them to know how dangerous it can actually be. The water might look calm on the surface but underneath can run very fast," said Van Bebber of the canal system, which is run and maintained by IID.

"There's also a lot of junk underneath they need to be aware of. Things like shopping carts, refrigerators and poles can seriously hurt them," added Van Bebber.

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Van Bebber said there is a major liability issue when Mexicali divers or any uncertified divers go into the canals.

On Thursday, divers from the Sheriff's Office and the Mexicali Fire Department met to improve their communications and train.

The training workshop started at 10 a.m. when all divers met at the Sheriff's Office training center near El Centro.

"It is important that we all work together to save lives," said Imperial County Sheriff Harold Carter to a room full of Mexicali firefighters and Sheriff's Office divers and officials.

"No matter which side of the border the victim comes from, we need to work together to save them," he said to the firefighters.

After the morning meeting, Carter told a reporter, "We're hoping we can rescue people more effectively. As long as kids swim in the canal it's going to be a dangerous situation."

Carter said the reason for the training with Mexicali firefighters was to help the firefighters develop a better dive team and cooperate with authorities on this side of the border in rescues and recoveries.

"We are better-equipped and better-trained so we want to help them," said Carter.

During the meeting, sheriff's officials donated some diving equipment to the Mexicali firefighters.

Dive tanks, life jackets, harnesses for the tanks and other items were donated. All the firefighters responded with a "gracias."

Mexicali Fire Department Chief Raul Barrera Aguilar said to a reporter, "There's been a lot of accidents and if we work together we both do our job better."

He said the biggest problem his divers faced was getting permission to dive in the U.S. canals to search for victims.

He is hopeful this collaboration with the Sheriff's Office will help better the Fire Department's rescues and recoveries.

Deputy Tim Henderson was awarded a diving medal during the meeting. The metal signifies he is a full-fledged diver and no longer needs to be supervised during diving.

"I have been wanting this pin ever since I've gotten here. This one means a lot to me," Henderson said.

The Mexicali divers were taken to the Imperial Valley College swimming pool to do some training with their donated diving equipment.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3435.

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