Assembly approves change in rescues

New dive rescue group commits to more than body recovery

Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2000

The city is giving surplus dive rescue and recovery equipment to South East Aquatic Safety Inc. and at the Juneau Assembly's Monday night meeting established a protocol mandating cooperation between Capital City Fire and Rescue personnel and SEAS, a volunteer nonprofit organization.

In a memorandum of understanding between the city and SEAS, CCFR and SEAS are required to respond to potential water-related emergencies as resources allow. And SEAS will provide a "sufficient number of trained divers for rapid underwater dive rescue and recovery services for the community of Juneau."

SEAS also is required to assume responsibility for all safety, training, drills, records, and standards of compliance and operations.

CCFR officers are given site command at any emergency scene.

The resolution passed after residents questioned the SEAS president's dive safety record and worried aloud about the possible change of direction from one of rescue to body recovery.

"I'm very unhappy with the way things have turned out," said Hal Geiger this morning. "To me, this is like turning the functions of the

police department over to a gun club."

Geiger has been a diver since 1971, he said, and has dived in the Juneau area for a time as a scientific diver for the state since 1983.

SEAS is headed by John Lachelt, owner of Channel Dive Center, a Juneau company that sells dive gear and training.

The training provided by Lachelt comes from "an independent collection of instructors who do not police themselves," Geiger said.

He cited two fatalities that occurred during training provided by Channel Dive Center.

In October 1994, Mary Caroly Frichette, 56, died in an open-water dive near Auke Bay during a class organized by Channel Dive. And in August 1992, Brenda Marie Beckler, 25, died at Barlow Cove, Admiralty Island, also during a Channel Dive class.

With regard to those two accidents, no civil action ever has been filed, liability found, or action taken against Channel Dive, said Lachelt this morning.

Lachelt also played down criticisms about SEAS's direction. "What the community wants and needs is a rescue type of capability, and that's what we'll provide," he said.

Those words belie the sentiments Lachelt expressed at a recent hearing before the Capital City Emergency Planning Committee, Geiger said.

A transcript from that committee meeting cites Lachelt: "Response, yes, we can respond. But that's what I'm telling you guys, more than 99 percent of the calls dive teams get worldwide are not rescues. By the time the diver gets there and by the time a diver enters the water, it's a recovery."

CCFR volunteer Jerry Luckhaupt defended rescue attempts at the hearing: "Cold water drowning people do survive. Two out of 10 people who are recovered within 10 minutes of immersion will survive. Those aren't my figures, those are the figures provided by everybody that has studied this issue."

Lachelt said this morning that with the protocol giving his volunteers pagers and other equipment, SEAS was looking at a "rescue response capability," and that quoting his statement about "recovery" was to take his meaning out of context.

SEAS is ready to field 18 qualified volunteers right now, Lachelt said.



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