Dive teams from across Tampa were sent deep into the bay Tuesday morning for a three-mile swim. It’s all part of their annual training, so when there is a real emergency these men and women are ready.
One after another, six agencies consisting of 40 divers took the plunge, jumping off helicopters into the water off the coast of Picnic Island Beach.
“Just like jumping off of a high dive,” said Keenan Hinson, with Tampa Fire Rescue, who was participating in the training for the first time. “A little bit nervous, just a tad.”
The divers were divided into teams of four. Challenges and obstacles awaited them after every stroke.
“Definitely the tide, wind and current, we got some wildlife concerns as well, not to mention the teams actually staying together,” said Chris Audet, with the Tampa Police Dept.
“There’s always that worry about sharks that’s just in the back of your mind,” said Hinson.
At the halfway point the oldest team member had to pretend to be a victim, unable to swim on their own. It was the other divers’ responsibility to carry them to safety.
“You can only see as far as your hand is. We all have to be very cognizant about where we are in relation to each other,” said Hinson.
Plenty of boats were close by in case something went wrong. However, asking for help is the last thing any of these divers wants to do. This swim is more than training, it’s pride.
“The importance of these training sessions, clearly to instill confidence in swimming ability, rescue ability, and kind of a resilience of stamina type of thing, it’s very much a gut check,” said Audet.