By WINNIE BLACKWOOD
For the Express
The creation of a dive team by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has been put on hold for the time being, and the office will instead continue to work jointly with resources provided in the surrounding counties.
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said his office will work with Saratoga and Warren counties’ sheriff departments, Fulton and Montgomery emergency services and Amsterdam’s police and fire departments — all which have dive teams.
“We’d rather work jointly with the other counties,” Giardino said.
Fulton County will use its boat and new Side Scan Sonar, a $30,000 donation made by the Sean Craig Memorial Fund, in conjunction with the dive teams. The piece of equipment creates an image of the sea floor.
“It was a pretty important tool for them to have to locate a body or anything else in case of an emergency,” Justin Craig, the brother of the late Sean Craig, said. Sean Craig passed away last July after drowning in the Great Sacandaga Lake.
His body was recovered a day after he went missing due to the lack of resources in Fulton County and the need to call in outside resources and equipment, like the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Dive Team and the New York State Police Dive Team.
Several factors have gone into the decision of working with other departments, including money.
“It’s good for all of us to share resources because we all have limited and tight budgets,” Giardino said. “It’s kind of better to do the regional approach right now. In the future maybe, but right now there’s a few roadblocks.”
Expenses for the man power would include training hours to become certified and gear for the divers.
“While it’s a big expense to do and we used to have a dive team, it’s very time intensive and we’ve lost a lot of deputy positions that we used to have,” Giardino said. “We don’t have enough backfill to do that.”
Giardino thanked the volunteers from the community who have helped in diving efforts, as well as the civil defense dive team that has worked with law enforcement. Giardino, however, said another issue is liability and the cost of insurance.
More than thirty divers are available between the Saratoga and Warren counties and Amsterdam’s police and fire departments. Giardino said he has received commitments from the two sheriff’s department when their services are needed in emergency situations.
Saratoga County has 15 deputies that are certified as divers, with half of them possessing the highest level of training as a master diver, said Saratoga County Undersheriff Richard Castle. Divers are also dry and wet suit certified.
Saratoga County Sheriff’s department is also equipped with an underwater communications system and an underwater robot with sonar, a retrieving arm and a video camera, Castle said.
Boat patrol is handled full time by Saratoga County on the weekends. If it is anticipated to be busy on weekdays, it also helps with the Sacandaga Lake, Castle said.
Giardino said Fulton County is on boat patrol part time on the lake.
If called in by Fulton County for assistance, Castle said it would take around an hour to get to the scene. The hour includes assembling members of the dive team, getting the dive truck in Ballston Spa and gearing up.
Giardino said if Fulton County had a dive team, it would take them approximately 45 minutes to assemble and gear up. He added that if an individual is not found within 15 to twenty minutes, it no longer is a rescue, but a recovery. Once a mission becomes a recovery, law enforcement and evidence become involved.
“Once it becomes a recovery it becomes a law enforcement matter, and it could involve evidence to determine death,” Giardino said.
A joint training session was also held in May on the Great Sacandaga Lake between the three sheriff departments, along with Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and Amsterdam Police Department and Amsterdam Fire Department Joint Team in order to effectively work together.
An issue was found with the radio system during the training session, and the problem is being addressed to ensure better communication out on the water, Giardino said.
“It was a good opportunity for all three departments to get together, including Fulton County … to really get to know one another and see what each has as far as equipment and strengths and different things like that,” Col. Richard Emery of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s department said. “Overall it was a good day.”
Justin Craig described it as “crazy” for Fulton County to not have their own dive team, but also said the work between Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga counties is “huge.”
“[Sean] loved the lake, and the lack of resources that are up there for prevention and safety, it’s pretty sad that we don’t have that like the other lakes and county do,” Craig said.
The memorial fund set up in Craig’s late brother’s memory has a mission to help search and rescue divisions in Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga Counties, as well as to assist with the creation of a dive team in Fulton County in the future.
“If we could just help them out, make it easier on them, and also maybe prevent something like this from happening again,” Craig said.
Another goal of the memorial fund is to help raise awareness concerning boating and water safety. Forty life jackets for children were donated to a camp in Saratoga County through the memorial fund.
Since the creation of the memorial fund, around $42,000 has been raised through events, such as golf tournaments and a color run.
The Sacandaga Jet Ski Club has also donated 4,000 life preservers and safety flotation devices with half being handed out so far.
Aside from the boat patrol, Fulton County also promotes water and boat safety with education, including to wear a life preserver, be familiar with the area boaters are in, limit the intake of alcohol and have a designated driver.