Difficulties of underwater searches

HARDY, AR (KAIT) – Volunteer firefighters, police officers and other first responders/emergency personnel have been looking for the whereabouts of Breeann Rodriguez, 3, of Senath for more than a week. As the search continued Monday for her body in a ditch in Dunklin County, first responders in other parts of Region 8 discussed how difficult such a mission can be, both mentally and physically.

"There are older firemen who have the experience and we've got a lot of young divers coming up. They're showing a lot of good common sense and knowledge, too," said Roger Stark, who has been retired from professional firefighting for three years.

Stark, who retired from the Cherokee Village Fire Department in 2008, told Region 8 News that each diver is highly trained for search and rescue and recovery missions.

"I know it's a trying time for them and whoever is doing it, it's not an easy task. You don't get used to it. It's just something that we do though," said Stark. "You're thinking of the family. You want to retrieve this person, recover this person. The only reason we do it is for the families to try to help them in some way."

Hardy Police Chief Ernest Rose said Stark was instrumental in starting classes for scuba divers in Sharp County. Stark got his diver's registration in the mid-70s.

"I remember the first two were in either 1975 or 1976. We had a man and a five-year-old drown that summer and it just went from there. Every year," said Stark, who now assists the Hardy Volunteer Fire Department.

"All the departments that have rescue divers, we train. You've got to keep up on your training," said Stark.

Stark said some of the training is performed in rivers, lakes, pools and other bodies of water. He said the most demanding training instances are when the trainee can't under water.

"Sitting there in the fire house reading a book is totally different than being out there on the scene and doing the job," said Rose. "It's very strenuous. When you're doing a training exercise such as some he explained a while ago, they put a sand bag at the bottom of the river and you go find it."

"It's easy to talk about, but it's a different scenario when you're in that dark water. You can't see anything. Everything is done by the training you have and what you can feel," said Rose.

Stark said most recovery cases are after someone skips in a canoe and gets trapped under a rock or current. He said the search can be extremely difficult if crews don't know where to start looking.

"If someone comes up and says they went in right there, we'll find them real close to that spot," said Stark. "Usually it's somebody that's swimming or a canoe turns over or somebody not paying attention to their child and they slip away."

"They'll get out and respond knowing it's going to be unpleasant. The weather will be at its worst or they wouldn't need us. There's some kind of tragedy or we wouldn't be called," said Rose.

Rose said he stresses safety to his men.

"A structure fire, you don't send one man in. You send two men. You have two men standing by. We do the same scenario on our divers. We have two in the water and we've got two standing by, ready for call," said Rose.

"You want two people in if one of the divers gets in trouble, you know, a buddy there that can buddy breath or whatever the situation is to help him out," said Stark.

Rose said 5 volunteers in the Hardy Volunteer Fire Department have signed up for dive training later this month. He said other people from agencies in Sharp County have expressed interest as well.

"They know if you're taking training through an emergency team such as this, you're going to be called out," said Rose. "When one of them is on scene, watch them. You'll learn experience is the best teacher. Sadly to say, they've had to be through a lot of different scenarios."

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