Members of Lee's Summit Underwater Rescue and Recovery Team get payments of the intangible variety.
The all-volunteer, professionally trained group is celebrating 50 years of service to the Kansas City metro area and beyond, and several of the group's 11 current members said they joined because of their love for diving and the valuable community services they can provide.
In their line of work they can find a drowning victim, pull out a submerged vehicle, help police recover evidence or maybe even find a lost valuable that went overboard. They also can serve as safety support for water-based sporting events.
“Just that peace you give families and the idea of community service,” said Krista Block, one of the team's newest members.
As a former foster parent with his wife and a registered nurse by trade, the community service and helping families appealed to Michael Paulson.
“This kind of thing brings closure,” he said, as they rarely have to rescue as much as recover. “By the time we're on the scene, usually the golden hour's gone.”
Jennifer Feller, who serves as the group's public information officer, said her father's military career made her appreciate the idea of service, and combined with her love of diving it made for a natural combination that she fulfilled several years ago.
It was quite a proud moment, she said, that “The last thing I told him before he died was I had joined the team.”
Bill Feller, Jennifer's husband, said he's been diving ever since he joined the Navy in 1985, and was part of groups similar to LSUR in Oahu, Hawaii, and Charleston, South Carolina.
“Wherever I was stationed, I would find the local volunteer dive team,” he said.
When he moved back to Lee's Summit after retiring from the Navy, he joined LSUR in 2007. All told, he has more than 20 years of expertise.
LSUR formed in 1966 after a local lake drowning, training together in order to conduct organized body searches in local lakes and ponds since law enforcement agencies often lacked the manpower and funds to have such teams.
“In the old days, divers just met with whatever gear they had,” Jennifer Feller said.
In 1988 the team obtained a 100-year lease (at $1 per year) from the county and built its current headquarters building on Rennau Road near Lake Jacomo, across from the former Jackson County Sheriff's office. The building's dedicated to David Hartman, a former Lee's Summit police officer who in 1983 became the only dive team member ever to die in action, as he tried to save some stranded canoeists in the flash-flooded Little Blue River.
Today it houses all team's equipment, including four boats, a small aircraft fuselage for plain recovery training, a van and a large box truck the team retrofitted after it was purchased from funds donated by Woodbridge Corporation. In the 1993 flood LSUR saved several of large pieces of valuable equipment from Woodbridge's flooded building in the Northland.
Jennifer Feller emphasized that LSUR's diving is a far cry from recreational sightseeing dives, or even a rescue in clear waters. A lake or river is never clear – more like swimming in chocolate milk, she said – and the Missouri River has nasty combination of currents and thick muddy bottom.
“When we search, we look with our hands,” she said, moving hers from side to side to demonstrate.
Bill Feller has plenty of stories of searching for one thing and finding another – or plenty more. For example, one search for evidence that police asked for yielded a stolen and torched car from an unrelated case.
“You never know what you might find,” he said.
“The Jackson County Sheriff's Office has always enjoyed a collaborative and positive relationship with the Lee's Summit Underwater Recovery Unit,” Sheriff Mike Sharp said. "To have this resource in Jackson County is not only beneficial to work we do, but it adds to the safety and security of our citizens.
“I join others in congratulating them on 50 years of commitment to the safety and service of all those in Jackson County.”
The team receives donations of all sorts, and a large portion of its income comes from providing safety service for triathlons.
The team also provides some civilian training.
“We do water safety training at a bunch of churches, schools,” Paulson said. “We'd rather train them than rescue them.”
The team will have its 50-year reunion banquet at 5:30 p.m., April 30, at the LSUR headquarters, to honor all current and past members.