WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP — The Crawford County Scuba Team has thrived for 50 years not by being a team, but by being a family, according to its members.
Founded in 1969, the volunteer scuba team provides water rescue and recovery services in Crawford County and the surrounding area.
Nearly 100 people — team members, both past and present, as well as family and friends — turned out Saturday afternoon for a public open house and celebration of five decades of service to the community.
A scuba team operation often is long and stressful on team members as they work to locate and rescue or recover someone who is missing, Dale Johnston, president of the organization and a 33-year member, told the crowd.
“We’re a family-friendly organization — that’s what makes everything work,” Johnston said, especially noting the support of wives and other family members of the team.
“If we didn’t bring family into this — it wouldn’t work,” he said. “They’re a big part of our team.”
But the organization wouldn’t be where it is today — both strong and vibrant — without the vision of its founding members, Johnston said.
Many of the scuba team’s founders and 11 original dive team members and other early members of the organization turned out for the event.
Two of the founding members — Art Getchell and Ed Fox — were honored with plaques for their five decades of service as was Earl Mook, the organization’s treasurer for the past 39 years.
“It’s guys like this who helped get this thing started,” Johnston said of the founders and early members. “These guys made it happen. They laid the foundation for the organization. It’s been their dedication to bring the team to what is is today.”
Johnston said the organization started out with a used bread-delivery truck as its first vehicle and didn’t have its own station. Today, it has a dive truck and trailer complete with state-of-the-art equipment and its members are certified in swift water rescue so they can be deployed anywhere in Pennsylvania where needed.
Plus, the organization is debt-free thanks to Mook, according to Johnston.
“Without his visionary investment,” Johnston said, “we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Following the ceremonies, both Getchell and Fox said much has changed with the organization during the past 50 years — especially in equipment and training.
While team members had been certified as scuba divers following training sessions at the Meadville YMCA’s pool, it was an unproven group, the men said.
“It was chaos,” Getchell said of the team’s first actual call in 1970 to a drowning in French Creek near Meadville’s Mead Avenue Bridge. “We didn’t really have our own truck for equipment. We had trained and were certified, but we hadn’t been called to an actual drowning.”
A week later the team was called out again — this time to Oil Creek near Titusville, Fox said.
The early days of the team were far different as divers had to have their own scuba gear and underwater clothing.
“Back then, we wore wetsuits and today, they wear drysuits for diving,” he said.
A body-hugging wetsuit lets a thin layer of water enter through the material, allowing a person’s body temperature to warm the water and keep the diver insulated during the dive. A drysuit fits looser, but is fully sealed, keeping the diver completely dry by ensuring that no water gets into the suit. It lets a diver have insulating layers of clothes underneath the suit.
Bob Burns, one of the original dive team members, said he remembered the training as being rigorous — with multiple tasks including a one-mile swim.
The training had 10 different classes with each class being three hours long, according to a Meadville Tribune article on the training the initial team received.
It was all to ensure the safety of each dive team member, according to Burns.
“Dave Vukelich, a U.S. Navy diver, was one of the instructors and he said ‘You can’t have quitters out there,’” Burns said.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.