October fundraiser for Underwater Search Team is a swimming success

Members of the Central Alberta Rescue Diving Society at a practice rescue dive in 2020: Luke Jevne (far left), Sean Johnston (second from the left), Bob Jonson (second from the right), and Stwart Pole (far right). (Photo/ Shaela Dansereau)

Members of the Central Alberta Rescue Diving Society at a practice rescue dive in 2020: Luke Jevne (far left), Sean Johnston (second from the left), Bob Jonson (second from the right), and Stwart Pole (far right). (Photo/ Shaela Dansereau)

A fundraiser for the Underwater Search Team (UST) held by Baker Funeral Chapel this October has exceeded all expectations.

The UST is a completely volunteer-based dive team that specializes in evidence and body recoveries throughout Alberta. Like volunteer firefighters, members of the UST drop everything when they are called out by the RCMP.

However, unlike a volunteer fire department, each diver supplies their own equipment for recoveries and maintains their own training. Their training currently makes them the highest-certified public safety dive team in the province – training and outfitting each diver on the UST currently costs over $20,000.

The team was in dire need of funding as the province unfortunately does not have a paid recovery team.

Last year the team received a decommissioned emergency response truck that was jointly owned by the County and City of Wetaskiwin which the Wetaskiwin Co-op stored for the team in a garage.

This truck was invaluable in that the team could travel together, keep their equipment during a dive, refill their air tanks, change and warm-up between dives, debrief and serve as a command center.

Depending on where the recovery is in the province it can take five days to ready the team, travel to and from, dive and decontaminate the equipment. This year after one challenging deployment up north the truck’s engine was rendered useless and the team found themselves in a difficult position, unable to afford the replacement engine at a cost of $35,000.

When Allie and Jason Wombold at Baker Funeral Chapel in Wetaskiwin heard about the UST’s lack of stable funding and the immediate need for a new engine, they decided to hold a BBQ and silent auction fundraiser in Wetaskiwin for the team.

The fundraiser, held on October 18, saw the chapel at the funeral home fill with donated auction items from individuals and businesses from across the community and province: Huckleberry’s Café cooked up trays of pulled pork and Paul’s baked beans, Beans Coffee Bar and Bistro had donated coffee and Jordan’s No Frills donated pop and water.

Hundreds attended the BBQ and silent auction and at the end of the day $29,154 was raised.

“Wetaskiwin has certainly stepped up in their support of the UST,” says Allie Wombolt.

With the funds from the event and previously received donations, the UST was able to order a new engine for their truck at the end of October.

Now that the truck will get its new engine the Wombolts suggest that Albertans need to help find stable funding for the UST through the provincial government.

“Until then, more fundraisers will likely be necessary for on-going expenses. In 2020, they had four call outs and in 2021, they had 19. The financial burden has become too great for a half dozen divers.”

Donations to the UST can still be made on their website at www.underwatersearchteam.com.

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