As our water sports scene grows, one team of heroes keeps watch.
LARIMER COUNTY IS home to 21,000 acres of lakes and rivers. Our crown jewel, the Cache La Poudre, is ranked as the eighth-largest whitewater river in the state. With our growing population and an influx of tourists from around the world, there are more people than ever hauling kayaks, SUPs, tubes, motorboats, jet skis and more, to their favorite playground.
But what happens when things take a turn for the worse? Take, for example, a kayaker on the Poudre who flips, hits his head, and ends up on far shore, needing medical attention. Or a tuber west of Old Town, barefoot with a beer and no life jacket, who gets caught in a low-head dam that pulls her underwater?
When witnesses call 911, an alert goes out to various emergency response teams, including the nonprofit Larimer County Dive Rescue Team (LCDRT). Founded in 1972 by a group of scuba divers and public safety officials, their mission is to rescue and recover people and property involved in water-related accidents. Of all the first responders, they’re the only ones who specialize in water. Aquatic superheroes in wetsuits (or dry suits), if you will.
Upon alert, the 25 or so volunteer members of LCDRT spring into action, including long-timers Mike Levy and Bruce Lobmeyer. “The call signals the start of the golden hour,” says Levy. “Which is how much time we have, ideally, to get the dive truck, transport the team to the location, get information from witnesses and perform the rescue.”
Of course, things are not always ideal. The scenarios they encounter vary widely—jet ski accidents, ice incidents in winter, cars that have crashed into the Poudre River—and the specifics aren’t fully known until the team arrives on site. Plus, their service area comprises all of Larimer County, which might mean a long drive toward Cameron Pass, Estes Park or Red Feather Lakes, slowing them down.
Once they take action on scene, the roles of team members might surprise you. Lobmeyer notes that, interestingly, most of their work doesn’t even involve going in the water. For example, in a swift water rescue, he says that “for each person I put in the water, there are five to ten people in support positions on land, handling ropes and more. We need people downstream, upstream.” The situation is similar for a rescue in a body of water like Horsetooth Reservoir. There are only a couple of LCDRT volunteers in the water—the primary diver plus a back-up—and the others are in the boat, assisting by using radios and ropes to guide the diver through the water, which might have visibility as low as five inches.
In all rescues, Levy and Lobmeyer emphasize the importance of good witness information. In the case of deep water, where poor visibility is a chronic obstacle in Colorado, they use the method of triangulation to find the victim. Lobmeyer says that with accurate information from witnesses, “we can often get within five feet, which makes for a fast rescue.” He urges people taking part in water sports to pay attention to their surroundings, and in the case of an accident, it’s especially important to note the victim’s last seen point, which is the spot where the person went into the water. This critical piece of information can make the difference between a rescue and a recovery.
Moving forward, LCDRT volunteers are keeping an eye on the forthcoming whitewater kayak park in FoCo, wondering if this might increase their call volumes. But for now, it’s just a day-by-day thing, and they focus on staying sharp, practicing and enhancing their skills, so that when a call comes, they are ready to respond.
Want to get involved?
LCDRT is always looking for volunteers with diverse skill sets, including fundraising and admin, and will provide all training necessary. Visit lcdrt.org to learn more.