EFD Lack of Equipment Caused Delays in Water Rescue — Only 1 Dive Regulator Available

Elkhart Fire Department Fire Engine — Photo: Facebook

ELKHART, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has learned a lack of equipment caused delays in the response to a water rescue in which an SUV drove into the St. Joseph river in Elkhart on Monday morning. According to Elkhart Fire Chief David Cushwa, most of the department’s dive regulators had been sent out for maintenance. In fact, only one regulator was available and deployed. The department usually has 6-8 ready to go. Regulators regulate the air pressure coming out of air tanks, so divers can properly breathe under water.

“We needed Mishawaka (Fire Department) to come in and assist with their equipment.” Chief Cushwa said, adding that it was the Dive Coordinator who sent all of the equipment away for maintenance.

Cushwa tells RNM the divers had to use all of Mishawaka’s dive equipment, since Mishawaka’s regulators were not compatible with Elkhart’s gear. That caused additional delays. Cushwa said he does not have the exact times on hand, but other circumstances also lead to delays in getting fully equipped divers into the water.

“It was kind of the perfect storm.” Chief Cushwa said, adding more context to the delay. “We had multiple calls at the time. We had 5 dive certified personnel on shift, but they were all out. Three administrative personnel had to respond to the call.”

An Elkhart Police Officer witnessed the vehicle going into the river and was able to call it in immediately to request a water rescue. That officer also jumped into the water to attempt to rescue the driver, but was unable to do so without dive equipment. Sources tell RNM, the Elkhart Police Department also recently disbanded its own dive team.

“Right now we’re under a full review.” Chief Cushwa said when asked if anyone was being disciplined. “We have a set of meetings scheduled for (Thursday) with all of the personnel involved.”

Cushwa says the department now has all of the equipment to properly respond to water rescue calls.

“We are ready to go on a call right now.” He said.

A 58-year-old man died in the incident. RNM has chosen not to name him.

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  1. With the spare time fire crews and EMT’s have there is no excuse that someone in the Elkhart Fire Department isn’t trained and qualified to inspect, rebuild, calibrate and test dive regulators. There is a reason sky divers fold and inspect their own parachutes, their lives depend on it. There has to be some disciplinary action for the Dive Coordinator, what he did is unacceptable. St. Joe County spent a ton of money to make sure radios are compatible across fire and police, county and city. Equipment used by the dive teams should similarly be compatible across departments. When read the original news report I couldn’t understand the lag time between the report of a car in the water and the retrieval of the vehicle and the body. Now we know the rest of the story, thank you RNM!


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