Underwater dangers: A tour with Cambridge's dive rescue team

Underwater dangers: A tour with Cambridge's dive rescue team

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — There are dangers lurking under the water in many, many lakes and rivers that often swimmers are unaware of, until it's too late.

Boston 25 News spent the day with with the Cambridge Fire Department dive rescue team and got a first-hand look at what they do - and what hazards are just under the surface of local waterways.

"You look out and it’s beautiful," said Cambridge Deputy Fire Chief Sean White.

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But not far below the surface of the water of most urban lakes and rivers in Massachusetts are dangers that many swimmers may be unaware of.

"Underneath the water, especially in the Charles and near old structures like this there are hazards," White said.

The Cambridge Fire Department's dive rescue team trains frequently for rescue and recovery operations in the region.

They see the hazards first hand.

"Some of them are pylons, old docks different things like that that may be under the water and certainly the silt that is very thick that can somewhat grab individuals if they get stuck in it and it can be very dangerous for the people," White said.

During most rescues or recovery operations, there are divers that go under water to find a person. They pull that person to the surface to firefighters in dry suits waiting to assist and bring them to shore.

I suited up at Fresh Pond to get an understanding for waht these firefighters are up against.

"You’re in a suit that’s extremely buoyant and it’s buoyant in your arms and moves you around differently than you would expect," White said.

It's a challenge to move, let alone pull a person, out of the water.

But under water the challenge is even greater.

"The debris and just not knowing what you’re getting into the entanglement," said Jeff McGourty, a Cambridge firefighter, paramedic and diver.

"Things out there that you could get tangled in that could really throw you off.  It takes just turning and getting your mask thrown off," McGourty said.

He continued: "There’s a danger to any dive that we do. Your body goes through a lot of compression when you’re diving."

They have a robotic camera to assist them navigate.

It's clear at first. But even the slightest movement can change that.

"That waterways around here aren’t very clear the visibility isn’t great always, you get down and disturb it a little bit then you’re going by feel just like in a fire condition so it’s a lot by feel and training kicks in," McGourty said.

Sometimes visibility is near zero.

"At night you can’t see your hand in front of your face," McGourty said.

The team is always hoping for a rescue, not a recovery, but they have to prepare for the worst.

Earlier this month, divers from this team assisted in recovering the body of an 18-year-old man from the Upper Mystic Lake in nearby Medford.

Tragedies they hope to avoid by increasing awareness of the dangers below.

"Most of the waters in Cambridge and around Cambridge are unprotected - no lifeguards or anything like that to oversee the swimmers and the people that come off the docks say into the Charles River or something like this which really isn’t a swimming entity in the city can be very dangerous just because they are not designed for civilian swimmers," White said.