Summer has arrived in full force, and to most people, this means spending hours boating and fishing at nearby lakes and ponds. To ensure everyone keeps safe and has fun on the water, the Newtown Underwater Search and Rescue Team (NUSAR) has some important safety tips to share.
“Always wear your personal floatation device any time you’re on the water. No matter how good a swimmer you are, that won’t matter if you hit your head and become unconscious,” said NUSAR’s chief, Mike McCarthy. He added children under 13 must wear a personal flotation device on a boat when it’s in motion.
“Also, be aware of going too fast. Most lakes require boaters not to exceed 25 miles per hour during nighttime hours,” said McCarthy, 57, of Newtown, who works full-time as a technical rescue trainer.
Another tip he gave is “use common sense when consuming alcohol while operating a boat,” he said.
NUSAR is an all-volunteer emergency response team whose mission is to save lives and rescue property. It’s a nonprofit organization that serves
Newtown and the surrounding areas. It currently has 20 members, all of whom are trained to work year-round.
The team is supported by a yearly town-wide mailing fundraiser, as well as from proceeds received from an annual basketball game against the
Harlem All Stars, which is held at Newtown High School.
NUSAR gets six to eight callouts a year, according to McCarthy. “We’ve recovered everything from engagement rings to vehicles to keys to guns. We’ve also found evidence for the police to further their investigation,” McCarthy said.
Over the years, NUSAR members have been called to Lake
Housatonic, Lake Zoar, Candlewood Lake, Lake Lillinonah, and Bantam Lake.
McCarthy has many stories of rescues and recoveries NUSAR has made since he founded this organization in 1989. “One guy lost his $100 fishing rod that he won at a bass tournament at Lake Lillinnonah. He put us right on top of it and we were able to locate it for him,” he recalls.
Another time, the team received a call to retrieve a man’s dentures. “He was out fishing on Lake Lillinonah with his two grandchildren and lost his dentures overboard. He put a buoy in the spot he had lost them, and we found them within a half hour,” McCarthy said.
In October, the team was part of the group that searched for a missing rower in Oxford who was a member of the New Haven Rowing Club. It was a five day search effort that ended tragically, according to McCarthy.
To join NUSAR, one must be at least 18 years old, CPR-certified, and receive training through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). According to member Fred Lemay, 42, business owner, and resident of Newtown, “It takes close to a year to get all the specialties you need."
“Once we become certified, we must continually update our skills,” said member Marty Folan, 54, who is a retired manager.
“We train over and over in all water conditions in order to get divers comfortable in any kind of environment,” said member Jeremy Stein, 42, who works full time as an attorney at the Wilson Elser law firm. Members are trained to dive under the ice, he added.
One of the most difficult challenges the team faces in recovery operations is navigating through black water. This is water that contains so much silt and dirt that light is unable to penetrate it.
“In black water, you have no idea what you’ll run into. As a precaution, we always dive on a rope and have full voice communication to the surface.
We also have a back-up diver at 100% ready to go into the water immediately, as well as another driver who is 90% ready,” McCarthy said, adding everyone in the water can hear and speak to everyone involved in the rescue effort during the entire operation.
The Newtown Underwater Search and Rescue team has a free life jacket loaner program for children. NUSAR members are available to give talks on water safety. The next basketball fundraiser is Oct. 20 at Newtown High School. For more information or to make a donation to NUSAR, visit
www.nusar-ct.org or call 203-270-4390.