ST. GEORGE — After a Washington County Search and Rescue volunteer had his hands burned from diving into gasoline-filled water, some Southern Utah elementary school children are raising money to prevent instances like that from ever happening again.
A Lego robotics team with children from Hurricane Elementary School and Vista Elementary School, dubbed “The Droids you are Looking For,” is raising money for Washington County Search and Rescue to go toward hazardous-materials diving suits. Each hazmat suit costs about $3,000 and they will need at least two, said Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin.
The need for hazmat diving suits
A hazmat diving suit is a special dry suit that protects search and rescue members from being exposed to harmful chemicals when diving into water. Chemicals like gasoline are often spilled in water when boats tip over or cars go off the road into lakes, Cashin said. When there is an accident, removing the vehicle from the water as quickly as possible is key in curbing the amount of toxic chemicals polluting the water, he added.
“We’ve had a lot of boats tip over in Sand Hollow,” Cashin said. “All of that has been into our water supply.”
A lot of the chemicals eventually evaporate, Cashin said, while the rest of the polluted water has to be treated by the Washington County Water Conservancy District before it’s safe to use.
“We’re just trying to cut down on how much water needs to be chemically treated after a spill,” Cashin said.
On the most recent boat rescue last year, there were 40 gallons of gasoline spilled in the water, Cashin said. Three search and rescue divers entered the water wearing neoprene wetsuits, which are permeable to water and chemicals.
“The fuel actually melted the gloves on one of the divers,” Cashin said. “Over the next week, the skin on his hands peeled just from being in those hydrocarbons. He also developed an ear infection because of it.”
How a Lego robotics team is helping
Children in the local Lego robotics team heard about the need for hazmat diving suits when touring the Washington County Water Conservancy District facility in St. George, said Jenny Chamberlain, a mother and leader for “The Droids you are Looking For.”
“We decided that was the problem we wanted to help solve,” Chamberlain said. “Search and rescue runs on donations, so we wanted to help raise money for the hazmat dive suit ourselves.”
Children in the Lego robotics team made a presentation about why obtaining a chemical hazmat suit is necessary for Washington County search and rescue, Chamberlain said. After taking their presentation to different local organizations, they were able to secure donations from the city of Hurricane, the Washington County Water Conservancy District and several local businesses.
The Washington County Commission also pledged to help cover any additional costs for the hazmat diving suits after hearing from the children at the county commission meeting Tuesday.
“They have this little presentation that they do, and they’ve done it quite a few times, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how confidently they’ve just gone up and presented before the city council and the county commission,” Chamberlain said. “I’ve been inspired by them.”
Chamberlain hopes to have all of the funds raised for the hazmat suits by the annual “First Lego League” competition Saturday in St. George, where children from Lego robotics clubs will compete with robots they’ve programmed to complete different tasks. The teammates in “The Droids you are Looking For” will present their project to raise funds for hazmat dive suits at the tournament Saturday, Chamberlain said.
Those interested in donating money to help fund hazmat diving suits for Washington County search and rescue can send donations to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
“When people donate money and they specifically say ‘this money is for a chemical exposure dry suit,’ we can’t spend it on anything but that,” Cashin said. “That money is earmarked and restricted for what they donated the money for.”
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