Diving is a way of life for the members of McDuffie Fire/Rescue Services Dive Team.
The team has to function at a moment's notice - just like they have to do when they get a call to a fire, wreck, or simply a medical emergency call.
Like any of the jobs they perform from time-to-time, they know the dangers that lurk. That's why safety is stressed first and foremost.
A dive team has been in existence in McDuffie County since the early 1960s, according to McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services Dive Team Capt. Bobby Reynolds. A few years ago, it dwindled down to just one member, Capt. Lawrence Bruce, a volunteer firefighter/paramedic, whose regular job is serving as director of plant operations at McDuffie Regional Medical Center in Thomson.
About five years ago, the local dive team was resurrected and now has 10 certified divers and a 14-year-old cadet member, Austin Reynolds - the son of Capt. Reynolds. Currently a home-school student, the younger Reynolds plans on becoming a certified diver someday, too.
Other team members include: Fire/Rescue Services Chief and EMA Director Bruce Tanner; Training Officer Kevin Perry, Joe Vines, Dairen Cato, Capt. Scott Montgomery, Rhusha Mack, Preston Ashley and Michael Crosby. Shawnee Graham, of Thomson, serves as the dive team's tenure clerk - making sure to account for the accurate time spent in the water by each diver.
"The dedication of our dive team members stands out above all," said Capt. Reynolds, whose real job is working with his father, Creig, in the family business, Reynolds Plumbing and Electric of Thomson. His father also is a former member of the county fire/rescue services. "You can ask these guys to do anything and they'll do it. It doesn't matter what it is - they're standing in line ready to go."
The dive team is close. They do a lot of things together, including training exercises.
"We've come together not just as firefighters/first responders and divers, but as friends," said Capt. Reynolds.
He believes that if boaters and swimmers and others out for fun on area lakes would exercise more safety, there would be less of a chance of a tragedy occurring such as a drowning.
"Everybody who goes to the lake or area ponds needs to thank safety first, around the water," said Capt. Reynolds. "Everybody just needs to stop what they're doing for a few minutes and simply think about danger."
The team is credited with saving the life of a truck driver two years ago when a dump truck went off the side of the bridge and into Big Hart Creek, off Georgia Highway 17 north in McDuffie County.
Last year, the dive team was called out to Clarks Hill Lake to search for three missing persons, including a youngster, who were thought to have had a boating mishap and possibly drowned.
As it turned out, the three were found alive after landing on a crappie fish bed.
"They were just steadily fishing when we came upon them," said Capt. Reynolds. "They were o.k. They just hadn't called home and family members had gotten very concerned about them."
The majority of the dive team members have completed four of six certification classes - basic water, open water, advanced water and rescue diver, according to Mr. Perry, a former 10-year member of the U.S. Coast Guard. The only other two certifications left to attain are nitrox - a mixed gas class and dive master.
Chief Tanner is the only dive master on the local team.
Every so often, dive team members journey down to Gennie Springs, Fla. so they can take in more extensive dive training, said Mr. Perry.
Mr. Vines. who lives in McDuffie and works for the Columbia-Martinez Fire/Rescue, said he likes the excitement of the unexpected.
"I like diving because of the thrill of going into the water and facing the unexpected," said Mr. Vines, who has been on the local dive team since 2004. He has yet to participate in his first actual underwater rescue or recovery.
For Mr. Bruce, who has been a member of the dive team since 1991, it's a way of giving back to others.
"It's just always seemed like the right thing to do," said Mr. Bruce. "I don't think I feel right if I didn't volunteer my services."
Mr. Crosby, who has been a volunteer with the county fire/rescue services since 1995, said he believes it's a calling that was passed on by his late father, Bobby Crosby, who worked with the Georgia State Patrol, and other family members.
"It's a lot of fun for me to be able to help people," said Mr. Crosby, who is a former deputy with the Columbia County Sheriff's Department. "I kinda grew up in all of this."
His grandfather is Jim Mullis, one of the volunteer fire chiefs with the county fire/rescue services. His uncle is Stephen Sewell, who serves as assistant fire chief.
The McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services Dive Team has one small boat and a bigger boat, which is in need of a new motor. Efforts are underway by county officials to get a new boat motor. The team also has a van, which is known as "R-3." The van was donated to the local dive team by GNK of Augusta, thanks to behind the scenes work by former dive team member Brad Pittman.