Portland Fire & Rescue’s (PF&R) Dive Rescue Team serves the City of Portland and surrounding areas by providing water rescue and recovery, primarily in the 60 miles of waterways in the response area. The Dive Team currently has 25 active members with approximately eight members on each shift. This team is supplemented by divers from Gresham Fire & Emergency Services. By sharing resources, Portland and Gresham provide for consistent coverage of waterways during water-related incidents in both jurisdictions.
The Dive Team responds yearly to an average of 80 incidents, including cars over embankments, drowning victims and jumpers from the City of Portland’s numerous bridges. The Dive Team works closely with PF&R’s fireboats and the Technical Rescue Team at Station 1.
PF&R divers are permanently assigned to other full-time duties and are located at stations throughout Portland. This allows PF&R to dispatch experienced divers to rescues on miles of local waterways as quickly as possible.
Each team member is trained to utilize complex communications equipment. Above the water, a headset is worn by a surface support team member, which allows him to maintain constant contact with the diver while underwater. Communications literally run from the team member’s headset, through the diver’s safety line, and into the diver’s mask. This is critical since the diver’s safety line enables him to reach a depth of 100’ underwater and they often encounter dangerous obstacles.
The Dive Team utilizes drysuits, full face dive masks with integrated communications, and other specialized dive gear. The equipment is designed to provide protection in potentially contaminated waterways and operating in solo, low, or no light diving conditions.
The Dive Team operates in three basic modes – rescue mode, recovery mode, and standby mode.
Rescue Mode - A dive incident is in rescue mode during the first 30 minutes where there is a reasonable possibility of saving a life. Rescue mode may be extended to 60 minutes in some circumstances, such as if the patient is a small child, the water temperature is less than 40 degrees, or the patient may be trapped in an underwater air pocket. During rescue mode, it is justifiable for the Dive Team to assume more risk to save a life and the first-arriving Dive Team member may dive solo under certain circumstances.
Recovery Mode – A dive operation is in recovery mode after 30 minutes has elapsed since the individual was last seen on the water’s surface or if it is determined that there is no chance of saving a life consistent with the circumstances on scene. A minimum of four divers, plus dive support must be on scene to ensure safety during a recovery operation since assuming a higher level of risk is not justified.
Standby Mode – The Dive Team may also be activated during firefighting operations on waterways to assist any firefighters who may have fallen into the water. This is common at marina and houseboat fires.
PF&R’s Dive Rescue Team has experience in many types of water rescues. All Portland Fire divers have completed the Dive Rescue I certification through Dive Rescue International and have Advanced Diver certification. This experienced, highly trained team is proud to put their experience and diving expertise to work to serve the citizens of Portland and our surrounding communities on local waterways.