Giardino: No dive team, yet

The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office Underwater Search and Recovery Team (Dive Team) is a public safety dive team. Currently the dive team is comprised of twelve divers who possess at a minimum, Master Diver Certification. In addition to certification received in a variety topics, team members practice on a monthly basis to enhance their skills. (Source: Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office website)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t plan to commission a formal dive team this summer. But the agency is collaborating extensively with area law enforcement to save lives on the local waterways.

Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said the county at this time doesn’t have enough resources to start its own dive team. He said the county doesn’t have enough personnel or money for training to make it feasible.

“I don’t think it’s practical to start a full dive team,” Giardino said.

But he said the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department this summer will share resources with existing dive teams in Saratoga County and the city of Amsterdam in Montgomery County.

“We’re trying to solidify things for all three counties,” Giardino said.

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said his department will “absolutely” do anything to help the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department with its dive efforts on the lakes this year.

“Anything he needs, he’ll get,” Zurlo said of Giardino.

The Fulton County Sheriff’s department hasn’t had a dive team for several years. But following a couple drownings in 2017, some questioned whether it was time to consider forming a dive team again for Fulton County.

Dominick LaFountain, 12, of High Rock Road, Northville, drowned in the Great Sacandaga Lake on July 4. The boy was swimming near a sand bar around 4 p.m., when he no longer could stay above the water, the sheriff said at the time. LaFountain was camping with his mother and several other family members. The boy was not swimming in the beach area where lifeguards are present.

LaFountain was transported to Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, where he was pronounced dead. Officials arrived to the scene shortly after 4 p.m. New York state police, the Northampton and Corinth fire departments, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department dive team and the South Glens Falls dive team assisted.

Giardino said at the time he was unsure if having a Fulton County dive team could have changed the situation.

Zurlo said his crews assisted with the situation involving the LaFountain boy.

“Unfortunately, we were part of the recovery operations,” the Saratoga county sheriff said.

Fulton County boasts 44 lakes, including its biggest manmade lake — the Great Sacandaga Lake.

Sean Craig, 18, of Amsterdam, also accidentally drowned in the Great Sacandaga Lake July 30. Officials recovered his body that Sunday evening about 400 feet west of the I Go Inn Restaurant. Since then, the Craig family has been working with Giardino and Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort to research where funds could be used to benefit search and rescue efforts.

Following Craig’s death, his family created the Sean Craig Memorial Fund to support search and rescue efforts as well as dive operations in Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Attempts to reach Justin Craig — organizer and brother of Sean Craig — were unsuccessful this week.

But Giardino said the Craig family has raised $45,000 for dive rescue efforts throughout the area, including in Fulton County.

The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office Underwater Search and Recovery Team is a public safety dive team. Currently the dive team is comprised of 12 divers who possess at a minimum, master diver certification. In addition to certification received in a variety topics, team members practice on a monthly basis to enhance their skills.

Zurlo said that if Fulton County ever decides it wants to start a dive team, his department stands ready to assist. In the meantime, he said his dive team is a very well respected and professional unit and will again be out on the Great Sacandaga Lake this summer.

“I’ll have patrols up and down the Great Sacandaga,” Zurlo said.

Dive team operations in Saratoga include initiating search and recovery operations in underwater environments, locating and investigating underwater crime scenes, documenting and retrieving evidentiary items from the water, and assisting in the investigation of water related crimes. The dive team conducts both land and boat based operations in a variety of challenging bodies of water within Saratoga County. Boat-based operations are carried out utilizing an air boat or one of the four patrol boats.

In addition to digital camera standard dive equipment, the Saratoga County team has a variety of specialized equipment to carry out operations in any environment. The equipment includes an underwater remote-operated vehicle equipped with cameras, grabber arm and scanning sonar, underwater metal detectors, lift bags, wireless underwater communications, along with underwater video and photography.

“We’ve had three meetings with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office and the dive team and patrol,” Giardino said.

Giardino said Amsterdam’s police and fire departments have a joint 14-member dive team, including divers.

The St. Johnsville Fire Department, also in Montgomery County, has a Special Operations Company consisting of dive rescue and recovery, water rescue and swift water rescue.

“We have boat patrols and Saratoga County has boat patrols,” Giardino said. “We’ve been in on joint training.”

The sheriff said the dive training and marine training is a good way for deputies from both Fulton and Saratoga counties to get to meet and know each other.

Giardino said there have been requests for equipment, and the Craig family is trying to set up a non-profit to funnel resources.

He said Fulton County, and Saratoga County and Amsterdam city divers are within 45 minutes of each other, and he promises more collaborative safety efforts this summer.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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