Milwaukee Fire Dept. Dive Rescue team practices on, under ice

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by Lane Kimble

MILWAUKEE -- Freezing cold water, a ceiling of ice above your head and a life you need to save.  It's those conditions the Milwaukee Fire Department straps on masks, oxygen tanks and flippers for.

"It's a little different once you're down there, underneath the ice and you're looking up," Captain Chris Schutte said.  "You know you  can't just surface and call for help."

Capt. Schutte leads the dive rescue team.  His crew spent Saturday afternoon plunging into the  lagoon waters near Discovery World preparing for the worst.

"Somebody's holding onto the ice shelf, hypothermia starts to set in, they may not be able to hold on  anymore by the time we arrive, especially if it's on the outskirts of the city," Schutte said.

Thirty-four firefighters across Milwaukee stand ready to dive 24/7.  MFD typically gets one shot at ice  training a year.  They practice for equipment failures, water access problems and under-water  communication.

"We do it, we enjoy doing it and we do it well," diver Cameron Borchert said.

Borchert helps with training.  He explained there's always one diver under the water with  two backup divers ready to rotate in every ten to 15 minutes.  A guide team monitors on the surface.

"We do it in typically hostile conditions, and most of the time it's zero visiblity, so it's not for  everybody," Borchert said.  "You have to have not just a desire, but maybe a little bit of a sickness to do this."

The team follows a 90-minute rule: From the moment a victim goes under water, rescuers have 90  minutes to bring them back to the surface and potentially save their life.

"The more proficient you are at it, the more comfortable you are at it, the safer you're going to be, the  more effective the whole operation is going to be," Schutte said.

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