How to help
Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue wants to raise $90,000 to start a dive team. Contributions can be sent to Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue, Attn: Dive Rescue Trust Fund, 125 E. Columbian Ave., Neenah, WI 54956.
NEENAH — Using a Husky Airboat, Neenah-Menasha firefighters were among the first to reach the scene of an ice rescue Saturday on the north end of Lake Winnebago.
They could see a truck submerged in 16 feet of water, but they were unable to help Bruce R. Peterson, the Appleton man who was trapped inside and later died.
"Literally, there was nothing we could do," Assistant Fire Chief Mike Sipin said Wednesday. "We didn't have the equipment or training."
Firefighters hope to change that scenario in short order. Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue has launched a campaign to raise $90,000 to equip and train 12 of its members for underwater rescues.
The Winnebago County Sheriff's Department has statutory jurisdiction over waterways in the county and maintains its own dive team based in Oshkosh. A Neenah-Menasha dive team would shorten the response times for rescues in the north end of the county.
Sipin said the equipment and training for the dive team would cost about $70,000. The additional $20,000 would be used to pay for annual maintenance until elected officials determine how to cover those costs.
Sheriff John Matz said no money would be coming from his budget for the foreseeable future.
"It would not be fiscally prudent to assist in another venture," he said, adding that the county does not contribute funds to the Oshkosh Fire Department's dive team.
"If we were in different financial times, there might be some consideration, but things are really tight."
Matz recognized the benefits of a Neenah-Menasha dive team, however.
"If they can enhance services to the waterways, I support that," he said. "I support that in every way but financially."
Sipin recalled five or six rescues in which a Neenah-Menasha dive team could have responded quicker than the county's dive team to improve the chances of survival.
"If we had the dive-rescue capability, it could have made a difference," he said. "We will never know."
Duke Behnke: 920-729-6622, ext. 32, or email@example.com