Heart and faith driving Hutterite dive response team

Losing a loved one to drowning is a devastating experience for families and friends. For the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team (HEART), they absorb that same pain while they work to recover the bodies of drowning victims at Hutterite colonies all over Canada.

It has been 13 years since the team was founded, says President Paul Maendel. Drowning victim recoveries at Hutterite colonies were not being done in a timely fashion by other organizations, he says, so a group decided to take matters into their own hands and get certified to perform the dives themselves.

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“That kind of diving is called public safety diving ... As time progressed, we’re changing our technologies as funding allows.”

At the present time, the team is set up with side-scan sonar, a remotely operated vehicle that allows the team to scan large areas of lakes and rivers without having to unnecessarily put a diver in the water, says Maendel.

While the dive team, working out of Oak Bluff, Man., is supported by Hutterite colonies and is set up as a charitable organization through Oak Bluff Charitable Trust, they will go out to help anyone in need and have done recoveries for First Nation bands. If a family calls looking for their expertise, Maendel says they are compelled to help.

“If we can reasonably do it then we feel it’s our responsibility to help out anybody in need, not just Hutterites. And we’ve developed strong relationships with other search teams and especially families of victims.”

And this need has come from places as far as the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and Ontario to Alberta, around 10 recoveries last year with quite a few recoveries already done in 2020, says Maendel. A recent drowning of a six-year-old boy brought the team to Makwa Lake near Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan. After a month, the body of the boy was recovered by the team. Emotionally, that is a difficult situation and, like all drowning recoveries, they absorb that pain, says Maendel. It is their strong faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ keeps them going and helps them recover from the tragedies, he says.

“Because of that, we’re able to overcome any challenge that we’re facing because we put our trust in our Lord and our faith is paramount doing this kind of work.”

HEART members are trained in search and rescue equipment through both equipment manufacturers and dive training is done through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certified master instructors and friends of the team based in the United States. The team also puts on water safety sessions at local farm safety shows. Drowning deaths can be prevented, he says, and he hopes in the future there will be fewer of them.

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