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Rescuers hope residents come to their aid

The York County Emergency Response Team steps in when people are vulnerable.

They help locate missing children and adults, bringing them safely home. They pull the bodies of loved ones from York County waters.

Now, the nonprofit, all-volunteer team that formed more than two decades ago needs money to replace or repair aging equipment.

"Some of our equipment dates back to 1988," said Larry Crooks, response team founder and commander. "It's not in the best shape, but we keep it serviced. That way, it passes inspection so we still use it.

Using dated and worn gear could put a diver in a life-threatening situation, said Terri Cook, a surface support team leader, said.

Updating their gear would fix the problem, Crooks said.

The response team starts a countywide fundraiser on Jan. 1.

"They will be going door-to-door asking for donations for the team," said Cook, who first served with the team in the 1990s before returning last February. "In return, when people donate money, they will get a coupon for a free family portrait."

Those seeking donations during the year-long fundraiser will have the appropriate identification.

The team also lacked a home to store its gear and vehicles until recently when someone donated a building for use, but the team isn't fully using the building.

"At this time, we can't afford to get the utilities turned on," Crooks said. "We need $40,000 to $50,000 to upgrade our equipment and get into this building."

The response team receives an estimated $6,000 annual donation from York County, as well as other community donations. Those funds aren't enough to cover required annual service and repairs considering divers wear about $8,000 worth of equipment each time they enter the water.

"Safety is the most important thing for all of us, the divers in particular," said Shelley Wood, a 12-year rescuer. "Making sure the equipment is in good working order is paramount. We're working in a dangerous environment. Working in a water environment is dangerous."

For now, the team is making do with their existing gear such as buoyancy compensation devices.

"It's key to keep a diver in the position he needs to be in," Cook said. "That's how they control their position when they're in the water. If it (the buoyancy compensation device) fails, the diver will have problems getting back to the surface."

There is a shortage of those buoyancy compensation devices, Cook said.

"Every time we turn around, we're having to send one off to get a seam stitched," she said.

Some of the team's dry suits leak.

"Recently, we had some diver training recertifying everybody to dive in cold water," Cook said. "One of the divers came out (of the water) and the dry suit had been leaking. The dry suit keeps them dry. When the neck seal started leaking, it allowed water in and the thermal underwear the guy was wearing got wet."

"Once the water gets in, he won't stay warm," she said. "He can get hypothermia from getting cold."

Money is also needed to maintain its regulators, which distribute air for the divers.

" "We have to service those ourselves because we can't afford to pay to have them serviced, Cook said. "They have to be serviced every year."

"When an accident occurs, we want to be there to help," Wood said. "We want the community's help so we can remain ready to respond to any incident."

Want to help?

Donations to the York County Emergency Response Team can be mailed to P.O. Box 3483, Rock Hill, SC, 29732. For information, call Larry Crooks at 329-2688 or 803-324-7322.