Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cop divers: A breed apart, a breed below

It's one of the least popular types of specialized police work: dead body retrievers.

Of the 69,200 cops in Canada, only 110 are police divers.

This week more than half of them showed up at a frozen quarry near Ottawa to train in far more favourable conditions than many of them are used to.

Ottawa rookie cop Alana Fong sits on a towel-topped, waterproof kit case with her feet propped up on a small one. Wrapped in blankets she waits in a tent for colleague Walt Leshman to surface.

The burly Newfoundlander is far more experienced; he's been a police diver for four years.

Fong is about to make her second-ever ice dive.

In fact, she's the only female police diver in Ontario and one of only a handful in Canada.

She was fast-tracked into the unit - diving has always been something that interested her - having only been hired by Ottawa Police in May.

That's because they needed her.

"There's not a lot of people that want to do this job," says Const. Brent MacIntyre, of the Ottawa Police dive, marine and trails unit.

"It takes a certain type of police officer to want to go underwater and recover human remains, so there's not a lot of pickings when we're going out to recruit new officers."

Fong's first ice dive, completed Tuesday in the quarry, was an experience she'll never forget.

"It was incredible, actually. It was quite different than diving in the summer," she says.

"Here we have a lot of visibility, when you look up at the surface you can see so many colours."

MacIntyre can speak from experience about the contrast between the visibility in a quarry and what police divers are up against diving in places like the Ottawa River.

"It's like diving in tea," he says. "You can't see anything."

The quarry near Wakefield, Que., offers 128 feet of depth and numerous underwater objects to dive to.

The divers also conducted drills and exercises with dummies.

The busiest season of the year for police divers is just around the corner - spring thaw.

Thanks to London Free Press

Kathy Dowsett

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