New advances in technology and high performance equipment are making it easier and safer for area search and rescue dive teams to work while responding to missing persons or other items of importance.

Knowing this, volunteers with the Ryan Township Search and Rescue & Dive Team are utilizing a number of these advances while responding to water search and rescues.

"Time is very crucial when responding and participating in a water search and rescue," said Chief Darrell Harris, Ryan Township Search and Rescue & Dive Team. "Recent advances in technology are making our jobs easier by improving our productivity during calls."

The first in their arsenal of newer technology and equipment is a newly purchased 86-inch-wide Mirror Runner riverboat. Harris said the boat's width and 18-foot-long length allows the boat to calmly traverse waters that are less than 1 1/2 feet deep. The $28,000 boat permits the team to safely negotiate shallow water with less chances of disturbing items below, while providing a large platform for multiple team members and gear.

Their first search operation with the new riverboat involved a missing fisherman at Beltzville Lake, who went missing after falling off his boat. The man's body was eventually found.

Adding to their arsenal is a Hummingbird 386ciDI underwater down imaging sonar unit.

"Most of the waters we are called to are deep, dirty or not clear," said Harris. "When diving, we are lucky if we can see our hands in front of our face.

"We've always used sonar to search waters," said Harris. "This newer sonar technology allows us to utilize GPS signals while scanning the waters up to 250 feet straight down, as well as using traditional sonar to search areas approximately 20 feet around the boat and 600 feet down."

Harris added that the sonar unit is also capable of storing mapping and imagery locations on a memory card for later use or study.

"These two pieces of equipment, alone, will let us find a person faster in a rescue and life-saving situation or locate the body of someone who has drowned and bring an end to a tragic situation," said Harris.

"It is important that all the volunteers know the capabilities of the equipment," said Mike Mistishen, 1st assistant chief. "We rely heavily on witness statements and point-last-seen when responding to water rescues. Sometimes we don't have witnesses and depend solely on our skills and equipment."

In addition, a state-of-the-art Mercury 90 horsepower jet engine mounted to the back of the riverboat permits divers to safely search the proximity of the boat without getting the tender's line caught in old-fashioned propellers.

"Propeller propulsion is unsafe and can disrupt the waters," said Mistishen.

Ryan Township Search and Rescue, chartered in 1980 and based out of Barnesville, has 12 certified public safety divers and land search and rescue and ice water rescue volunteers. Although not required by the state, the team certifies itself once a year in related aspects of training. The team also serves as EMS.

In addition to improvements on the water, the rescue team also operates a state-of-the-art quick-setup rehabilitation unit for emergency situations. Harris said the entire unit can be set up and running within 10 minutes.

"Our volunteers have the training and now have the needed equipment to perform their jobs better," said Harris, a certified diver and emergency medical technician.

"Improvements in technology are helping to save lives by providing a greater impact for all emergency responders,"Harris added, "not just dive teams."