Taking the Plunge

The Naperville Fire Department does more than put out fires and provide emergency services for residents.

When an emergency sends an animal, a child or an adult through the ice into the water, one unit of the Naperville Fire Department comes to the rescue, the Water Recue Team.

The team, composed of 28 male and 2 female firefighters, is ready to jump in the water no matter what the circumstance.

“We try to preach to the public to stay off the ice,” said Assistant Dive Coordinator Chuck Gros. “With our fluctuating weather we can never tell how thick the ice is. It may be thick one day and then the next really thin. Unfortunately, we do have kids that go out on the ice and do fall through.”

The team trains once a month, all year round. In this training session it was about 20 degrees outside, but Gros says the water is about 37 degrees.

“We wear dry suits and undergarments under the suits,” said Gros. “As long as there’s air in our suits we stay nice and warm. I’m nice and dry because none of the water got to me. I can be frozen on the outside but dry on the inside. And it’s actually warmer under the water than it is up here on the ice.”

The firefighters can stay under the ice for about 15 to 20 minutes and can go as far as 150 feet, but must come back to the same hole. So they say safety is key in both training and in real life situations.

“In the summer it’s a lot safer because if you ever have a problem, you can come straight to the surface,” said Gros. “In the wintertime we have to come to the same hole. One way in, one way out. If we need to get closer to a location and find someone we’ll cut another hole.”

The divers in the water aren’t the only members of the team, there’s always someone standing by ready to go in case of an emergency. They also have a sonar-like technology to communicate both above and under the water.

There are about 600 water retentions ponds here in Naperville, and the water rescue team actually puts their skills to use two or three times a year.

“You never know with all the bodies of water we have when someone is going to get themselves into a dangerous condition,” said Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis. “Children often play near bodies of water and we have to be mobilized and be able to respond to these situations in all types of water.

The water rescue unit also teams up with the Lisle, Bolingbrook and Downers Grove Fire Departments to make sure the entire area is safe.

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