Point Pleasant First Aid Dive Team, Point Pleasant, New Jersey
This month’s article comes from New Jersey! It features the Point Pleasant Beach Rescue Dive Team. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the team members while at the Jenkinson’s Aquarium for World Oceans Day. They are trained and qualified Scuba divers who volunteer their time and efforts to protect those along the central Jersey shore beaches. Thank you to them for all of the amazing work they have done and do every week! They are truly extraordinary people. Thank you for taking the time to be apart of BTG!
They even rock O4 Stop Shark Finning stickers! Which is just another reason why we love them!
Q: When was the Point Pleasant Beach Rescue Dive Team started? How many volunteers are also involved?
A: The Point Pleasant First Aid Dive Team was founded in September of 1996. Water related incidents were occurring on the beaches after the lifeguards left, as well as divers and fishermen getting into trouble in the inlet. After a diver died in the inlet earlier that year, the Point Pleasant First Aid Squad decided it was time to form a dive team. There are 15 current active members.
Q: What all does the Rescue Dive Team do? When an emergency situation occurs, what are the steps that the team goes through?
A: We respond to any water related incident in Mantoloking, Bay Head, and Point Pleasant Beach. More common emergencies may include boats overturning, missing swimmers, body recoveries, object recoveries. This summer a “big round suspicious metal object” was found in the surf on the beach in Bay Head. Chief Chet Nesley went into the surf to check it out. It was indeed big, round, and made of metal. He could see that, but not much more so he began fanning some of the sand away from it. Chief Chet marked the spot, stood on it, and took land ranges. It was right about this time that he figured out what he was standing on. It was a Bugs Bunny moment, if you remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid. Do remember the one where Bugs was in the bomb plant with the hammer? Well that’s how he felt; he was standing on an underwater mine! The kind of thing that sinks really big ships! He went down again just to make certain what he saw. He could have been wrong, but he wasn’t, it was a really big mine and time for him to go. The team cleared the beach and waited for EOD divers to arrive. The navy divers packed ten pounds of C-4 around the mine and sat back and waited for the tide to come in, as they wanted as much water on top of the mine as they could get before pulling the trigger.
Q: When an emergency situation occurs, what are the steps that the team goes through? What determines which divers aid in the emergency?
A: Chief Chet Nesley determines which divers respond to which calls. He is very familiar with each diver’s skill, level of experience, strengths, and weaknesses. Some calls require many divers, for instance; if we are searching for something. Other calls require a certain skill. For instance navigating and penetrating a wreck to find and recover a body, or using lift bags to salvage a piece of equipment form a wreck.
Q: What types of situations to you encounter the most? What advice would you give to beach goers?
A: One of our more common calls is for distressed swimmers. We do many public educations displays and take any chance we get to educate the public about rip currents and how to have safe fun in the water. We advise beach goes to use common sense. Stay hydrated, only swim in lifeguarded areas, obey the rules, and do not wait until after the lifeguards leave to swim for free!
Q: When Sandy occurred, did the team have any part in aiding in emergency situations due to the storm or helping clean/check areas with damage?
A: Our inflatable zodiac boat, rescue 34 was a huge asset during Sandy. We were able to assist residents who stayed in their homes. Rescue 34 motored up and down the streets and brought many people from their flooded homes to the safety of nearby shelters. Many divers who are also EMT’s were busy responding to First Aid calls. Team members spent days away from their homes and families and stayed at the squad answering call after call assisting local residents in any way they could.
Q: Outside of saving lives, does the dive team go on dives for fun? What types of events and activities do you do in the community? (ex. world oceans day at Jenkinson’s)
A: We dive every week and have much fun doing so. Every dive is training dive, and every dive we learn something new; whether it is about ourselves, each other, the environment, our gear, the water, our environment, etc. We also take any opportunity to talk to people about what is swimming in the water, how to stay safe on the beach, and what we do. We have a booth a many local events. For the Seafood Festival that just passed on 9/21/13 we did a sunrise dive and collected local marine life. At our booth we had a touch tank and were able to show the public live specimens that we commonly see such as urchins, various snails and crabs, sea star, coral, sponge, various mollusks, etc. We also had our dummy diver set up in full dive gear that festivals goers loved taking their picture with. At the end of the festival we thanked and released our critters back into the water. A good time was had by all. Next on our agenda will be the Chowder Festival on October 12th.
Q: While diving, have any of the members of the team experienced any interesting encounters with sea life?
A: The sea has never failed to thrill us with its marine life. Flo Melo once was spotted a huge Eagle Ray with a wingspan much larger than her. Flo was so intrigued; she kicked as fast as she could and proceeded to follow this marvelous creature. It wasn’t until the ray stopped, turned around and looked at her that she decided to go her own way. Sue Lewicki once witnessed a puffer fish expand itself inside the mouth of a stargazer. She lay on the ocean floor watching as the stargazer tried to figure out what to do. The puffer fish expanded itself so large the stargazer couldn’t even open its mouth to let the fish go! Eventually the puffer fish deflated just enough and the stargazer opened its mouth and the puffer fish took off. Joe Southard was diving without a hood, as he often does during the summer, and heard humpback whales communicating with each other. Chet Nesley was thrilled when he witnessed a channel whelk excreting its egg casing. In 2009 a manatee made its way into the oil refinery in Linden NJ. The sea cow timed its departure from NJ wrong and the cold water forced it into the refinery where it was a bit warmer. Our dive team along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents, and the Brigantine-based Marine Mammal Stranding Center were able to coax the sea creature using romaine lettuce into shallow water to evaluate, take vitals, and devise a plan to get it to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. It was safely and successfully brought to Brigantine to de-stress before being picked up by the US Coast Guard and flown to Florida.
Q: Dive safety is a huge component and highly maintained. What type of safety procedures are done, checked and practiced?
A: The best way to stay in “dive shape” is to dive. We dive every week. By doing so, we are confident in our skills, in each other, and are very familiar with our environment and our equipment. We dive when conditions are not ideal. Some dives, if we close our eyes it’s brighter. This forces us to know where things are by feel and to navigate blindly. Some safety procedures include using our dive flag, alerting the Coast Guard when we are doing a drill, pairing more experienced divers with newer members, checking each other’s gear, and cleaning/inspecting our gear meticulously. It’s tradition after every dive we clean all our gear together and talk about the dive, what we saw, what we learned, what we could have done different, etc. We walk away with not only our personal experiences but what everyone else saw and learned from the sea that day.
Q: What personally inspired you to become a diver and to than become apart of a rescue dive team? Could you share a few responses from different team members?
A: I have always been fascinated by the sea and its creatures. Scuba diving serves as the vehicle that enables me to visit and marvel this incredible ecosystem. For me, I find my true zen on the ocean floor when I feel weightless, remain still and just watch in awe of the underwater world that is so diverse and different than ours. Witnessing first hand the beauty of the reef, and the marine life inhabitants does something good for the soul. Serving as a volunteer on the rescue dive team combined to passions into one; helping people and diving. Being able to aids others in the community while doing something you love takes something sweet and makes it even sweeter.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job? What is your favorite part of the Jenkinson’s Aquarium?
A: My favorite part of the dive team is when I form a relationship with an underwater creature. It’s incredible to visit their environment and witness them, but when a fish per say sees me, is interested in me, and wants to check me out; it’s that interaction that makes me realize how special it is what I get to do.
My favorite part of the Jenkinson’s Aquarium is watching the kids upstairs see, touch, feel, and learn about the critters in the touch tank. Seeing a child’s eyes light up in fascination when he or she gets to hold a sea star or touch a sting ray is just as fun, if not more than when I get to interact with these animals.