'You weigh the use versus the need:' Wilton disbands dive rescue team

WILTON — Citing very limited use, the town has decided to do away with its emergency dive rescue team.

On Tuesday night the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to disband its small group of personnel who are trained for underwater work, which includes members of the town’s police and fire departments.

“It’s something we’ve been reviewing for a few years now,” Police Chief John Lynch said, noting that other specialized teams are being looked at as well. “The results tell us that for the amount of use of the team, which is about two times in the last 10 years, it just isn’t affordable or realistic to maintain.”

Lynch said the associated equipment costs will become a savings to the town, along with training for personnel who devote two shifts each month to keep up their certifications and experience.

“So you weigh the use versus the need,” Lynch said. “We reached out to our neighbors (in) Norwalk and Westport, and they are more than willing to respond should we need a dive team.”

He explained that since the work of dive teams generally involves recovery efforts — either looking for evidence or searching for drowning victims — there is no immediate need to have a team on hand. In the cases of water emergencies, however, neighboring towns will be notified at the time of the call and respond immediately.

“There’s no cost to request if we ask them to come,” Fire Chief Jim Blanchfield said, noting that Wilton’s emergency personnel are likewise called to those municipalities without cost.

Following a question about whether these arrangements with other towns could potentially become one-sided and even lead to additional costs, Selectman Ross Tartell pointed out that the neighborly responses eventually balance out.

“A couple of years ago we did an analysis (and) over time it evens out,” he said. “No one’s gaining anybody else over time. It’s pretty even.”

In lieu of the decision to disband the dive team, Blanchfield said his personnel are refocusing their attention on “back to basics in rescue.” This includes water emergency training, surface rescue techniques, “quick grabs” and “swift water training.”

“Wilton does have water and we can make a difference, (so) that’s where we’re focusing (our efforts),” he added.

Selectwoman Deborah McFadden recalled that when she first joined the board, she had expressed concern about how much of the dive team’s equipment was owned by the divers themselves and not by the town.

“I’ve always looked at the dive team with some concern because of that liability,” she said.

“That’s something we’re not going to have to worry about,” Blanchfield replied.