Dive team seeks a helping hand

TRIMONT – In the land of 10,000 lakes, there is a risk of accidents, ranging from drownings to vehicles going through ice.

But those are situations the South Central Volunteer Dive Team is trained for, and ready to respond to at a moment’s notice.

“We are a voluntary, 501c3 nonprofit,” explained team leader Jamie Nelsen. “The thing is, we have no budget provided for us like the fire departments. We’re not affiliated with the fire department … The Trimont Fire Department allows us park our truck there, but we rely 100 percent on the generosity of the public.”

The group has existed as a non-profit since 2004. Now the team that has been a critical helping hand for emergencies at area lakes and rivers is asking for help to keep volunteering its services.

Expenses – from boats, to diving equipment, to life-saving training -?quickly add up and are ongoing.

The Dive Team was able to purchase a new boat in 2011, but the necessary equipment and storage for the gear is still needed.

“We’re looking at another sonar unit, and we need to update the cabinets that hold all of our equipment,” Nelsen said.

About $1,500 per year is spent on fuel and maintenance for the team’s truck.

Another item on the list is the need for a different diving platform on the boats.

“We have one that was refurbished already about 8 to 10 years ago,” Nelsen said. “But the poor little motor on our pontoon boat is the original and it is worn. We’re hoping it can make it through this year and maybe next, but it’s past its prime. We’re going to need to look at a new pontoon.”

The dive team has three boats: the pontoon; a 14-footer used for shuttling divers and equipment to and from the pontoon; and the newest boat, a 17-footer with side-imaging sonar.

“It’s like having a pump, a rescue truck and a grass rig for a fire department,” Nelsen said.

There is also the continuous training that goes into being a rescue diver. Nelsen has been certified by the Minnesota Firefighters association as a water rescue instructor, and has trained with fire departments and sheriff’s offices. The Dive Team also stages practice rescues year-round, since it could be called into action at any time.

The team has assisted with rescues not only in Martin County and neighboring counties, but has been called to places such as Lake Okoboji and to being on standby for the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007.

The majority of expenses come out of the pockets of Dive Team members. Most purchase their own diving gear, and the team does not charge to rescue or recover a drowning victim.

“I think a lot of people think we’re affiliated with the fire department, and that is probably why we have trouble raising funds,” Nelsen said.

The most recent attempt at fundraising is taking the direct approach by simply mailing the general public and asking for help.

“When we needed to purchase the sonar boat, we contacted a lot of the area businesses, but this time we’re going to the public,” Nelsen said. “We’re targeting groups in 500 to 1,000 a shot, just whatever we can afford for stamps.”

The team is also working with Martin County, which helped it purchase the sonar boat. The team also received help in the past with grants from Fairmont Area Foundation.

“We received $5,000 for the new boat, so we were very grateful for that,” Nelsen said. “But any amount large or small is greatly appreciated.”

Donations can be sent to South Central Volunteer Dive Team, Box 125, Trimont, MN 56176.