Behind the Badge: A look into CFD's air and sea rescue team - Fox 2 News Headlines

Behind the Badge: CFD's air and sea rescue team

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FOX Photo/ Anita Padilla FOX Photo/ Anita Padilla
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Who needs a prime time TV show about Chicago's firemen when we have the real deal?

They are the best of the best: Chicago's heroes who never think twice about saving your life--even in the most dangerous of weather elements, like this year's polar vortex.

With 28 miles of lake and beaches, a huge river system with harbors, bridges and ponds, there are bound to be moments of distress on the water. That's where the air and sea rescue team comes in at a moment's notice.

"Being in Chicago, the weather is always unpredictable. So with that in mind, we always prepare for the worst," commander David Dogget said.

FOX 32 got a special look into the work of the Chicago Fire Department's air and sea rescue team.

Using their bell 412EP helicopter and a custom designed boat, they came close to Lake Shore Drive. The chopper hovered five feet over water to drop divers into the chilly waters of Lake Michigan. It's training like this every single day that prepares them for rescues in the brutal cold.

"Winter came early and it came in with a vengeance, and it stayed late. During that time, we had an unusually high number of calls," chief of marine and dive operations, Ron Dornacker, said.

The chopper is equipped with heat sensor detectors, night vision and hoisting equipment to pull you out of the water if they have to. It was put to use more than ever this winter with 38 rescues of people and animals. Believe it or not, most of them were taking pictures of the ice sculptures and city skyline, and soon they were in trouble.

"With the city's skyline in the background and all of this frozen, it is the most beautiful ise sculpture in the world. People just wanted to come out here and take pictures," chief Michael Fox said.

In January, the team responded when three people fell into the Chicago River trying to retrieve a cell phone. Tragically, two of those people died.

"With air temps below freezing, we are looking at water temps around 33 or 34 degrees. It zaps your strength, so even good swimmers lose their strength," Dornacker said.

The divers can gear up in four minutes with 70 pounds of equipment. Their equipment is so sophisticated that even their rope tethers have radio wires. And, the team can communicate to the chopper a mile away underwater.

Pretty cool? Pilot David Dogget sure thinks so.

"The only thing I ever wanted was to work for the Chicago Fire Department. Flying for the Chicago Fire Department is a dream come true."

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