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NUSAR Trains At Lake Lillinonah



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On a blustery, cold, wet November day, members of Newtown Underwater Search and Rescue (NUSAR) took it upon themselves to get even wetter, while training in underwater search techniques on the bottom of Lake Lillinonah, where the water temperature was a bracing 42 degrees.

The civilian volunteer dive team set up its equipment on the western shore of Lake Lillinonah at the municipal boat launch, where members took turns practicing techniques used when searching for a missing object on a lake bottom. Lake Lillinonah is a hydrolectric impoundment of the Housatonic River formed by Shepaug Dam.

On an actual call, such an object might be a handgun that had been used in a crime and then thrown into a waterbody by a criminal seeking to dispose of it. But on Sunday, November 24, the training object being sought during the drill was a bright orange traffic cone. The group trains year-round.

As the NUSAR divers, who are equipped with scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) gear, worked their way across the lake bottom, an underwater video camera displayed what the divers were seeing below the surface to divers positioned on shore watching on a video monitor.

By defining a search area and methodically searching that area, the divers are eventually able to find a missing object if it is there.

Besides searching for missing objects on calls, NUSAR divers are alerted in searches for missing persons, who have disappeared while swimming from shore or who may have fallen off a boat. Sometimes, what starts as a search/rescue situation may turn into the recovery of a drowned swimmer.

On some calls, NUSAR’s task is to retrieve a submerged motor vehicle, often an automobile, that for one reason or another is underwater and out of plain sight. Vehicles may become submerged after accidents at boat launches, or after criminals hide stolen vehicles by plag them in the water.

On November 24, NUSAR had planned a drill that involves sinking an automobile and then bringing it up to the surface. But adverse weather conditions dictated that a simpler drill be undertaken.

Mike Cassetta, MD, who is NUSAR’s assistant chief, explained that while working underwater, the divers wear about 70 pounds of scuba gear. Their gear includes a wired intercom system that allows them to speak with people on the surface as they perform their underwater tasks.

Divers wearing underwater gear stand by on shore to aid those working underwater in the event that problems occur.

NUSAR divers train for a variety of situations such as nighttime diving, diving through the ice, diving from a boat, the use of body bags, the retrieval of submerged vehicles, and locating evidence. Being versed in many different types of situations, allows the divers to use the combination of techniques that are applicable in a given emergency situation, Dr Cassetta said.

NUSAR currently has 19 members, 11 of whom are active scuba divers, he said. The eight NUSAR support members have roles that do not include diving. The group’s safety standards for divers are those promulgated by the International Association of Dive Rescue Specialists.

Like town police, the five local volunteer fire companies, and ambulance volunteers, NUSAR is dispatched by the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at 3 Main Street. Besides calls in Newtown, the group often travels to emergency calls out-of-town.

The group has been doing fundraising in connection with its plans to acquire better quarters for the organization.

NUSAR diver Brian Solt, left, is aided by NUSAR diver John Dunleavy after Mr Solt returned from a round of underwater searching for a missing object (traffic cone) on the lakebed of Lake Lillinonah during a November 24 training exercise.—Bee Photos, Gorosko
NUSAR set up a portable shelter on shore of Lake Lillinonah on November 24 where it staged its training exercise.
Dr Mike Cassetta, left, and Peter Budge, both of NUSAR, were suited up and ready to dive at the training exercise at Lake Lillinonah.
Some members of NUSAR, along with several town police officers, and First Selectman Dan Rosenthal are shown near NUSAR’s large cargo van at the training exercise. —Bee Photos, Gorosko
NUSAR Chief Mike McCarthy speaks about scuba diving at the November 24 drill at Lake Lillinonah.
NUSAR diver Peter Budge emerges from Lake Lillinonah after an underwater search for a missing object in a training drill.
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