First responder dive team challenge: Building skills and strengthening bonds By:

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By Police1 Staff

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PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — Three years ago, command leaders of the Charlotte County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, located on the lower West Coast of Florida, conceived an innovative idea: a one-day competition for both law enforcement and fire/EMS.

With their SWAT background, these leaders envisioned an event that would bring teams together to showcase their skills while improving working relationships among local law enforcement and fire/EMS departments.

The competition consists of four team events: an underwater relay, underwater navigation course, body retrieval exercise, and underwater assembly event. Each team event requires five divers and scores are kept by adding the times of the four events — with the lowest overall time winning first place. Additionally, there is an optional individual event called “Top Frog,” which is a physically demanding challenge involving full-gear swimming, running and gear disassembly. The entire competition takes place at a small college campus lake.

With the support of many local businesses providing sponsorship money and prizes, the First Responder Dive Team Challenge debuted in September 2022. Nine teams from jurisdictions along the Southwest and West Coast of Florida competed and the event was a huge success. All proceeds went to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch.

In 2023, the event expanded to a two-day competition, attracting 16 teams from across Florida. Held again at a local college campus lake, the event was even more successful than the previous year.

The Dive Team Challenge has steadily grown in interest, with teams from out of state and even international teams now eager to participate in the 2024 competition. Due to the increased size and magnitude of this year’s event, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office is collaborating with neighboring law enforcement and fire/EMS members to secure donations for prizes and ensure the event’s success.

Babcock Ranch, a longtime supporter of local first responders, will host this year’s event. They will also host a public safety weekend, where thousands of spectators come to their large town square to interact with law enforcement and fire/EMS staff. The town square features a large body of water and a boardwalk, making it an ideal location for the competition. This collaboration aims for a significant turnout and community response, accommodating the event’s growth for years to come.

Many of the previous competing teams have already secured their return to the competition. New teams have also signed up, and there have been responses and inquiries from teams outside the state and country, including Central/South America and Europe.

The purpose of the Dive Team Challenge is to improve relationships between dive teams from law enforcement and fire/EMS. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, along with other regional first responder agencies, organizes the event. The challenge features four team events and one individual event, inspired by dive commanders with SWAT backgrounds who wanted to bring competitive spirit to this realm of first responders.