Donald Will, team leader of the New York State Police Underwater Recovery Team assigned to the Troop E Headquarters in Farmington, presented a program on the team’s duties and responsibilities at a recent meeting of the Victor-Farmington Rotary Club.
The NYSP URT is the oldest public and largest law enforcement safety dive team in the U.S. It was established in 1932, and is comprised of nine full-time regional team leaders and 56 divers. Its services are available to communities and law enforcement agencies across the state. When not on diving assignments, team members are assigned to their usual patrol activities.
The current teams’ capabilities far exceed those of the past. Gone is the era of divers in suits and hard hats supplied with air. Statewide, the teams have an arsenal of 22 available boats, including four airboats, and various high tech underwater electronic search equipment. Will said the state will add four more airboats to the fleet. With the availability of trained divers, technical equipment and boats, they can respond to boat accidents, accidental drownings, flood emergencies, swift water rescues and other water-related emergencies.
The team responds to an average of 240 calls annually, and performs about 1,800 dives recovering victims, weapons, evidence, vehicles and aircraft from state waters. Yearly joint dive training includes public safety dive teams from 10 states and Canada.
Will described his own experiences as a member of this unit. He said the eight teams assigned to the upstate area each have a designated area of expertise. The Troop E unit consists of members who specialize in side-scan sonar recovery operations. Although they are assigned to Troop E, they may be called on to aid other jurisdictions. The Troop E team provided recovery assistance to authorities in Cleveland when a private jet crashed into Lake Erie, and was dispatched to the Niagara River to assist in recovery operations when a diver from the Buffalo Police Department drowned during a practice dive near Niagara Falls.
Will, a 15-year veteran and former schoolteacher, described the training team members undergo on an annual basis. The diving school is located near Albany. New divers must undergo a nine-week training regimen before being assigned to a team. The training usually takes place on Lake George or Great Sacandaga Lake. All divers must be qualified in diving from helicopters as part of their training process. The team in each troop consists of eight troopers.