Tampa PD SWAT goes underwater for training

Lloyd Sowers reports

- If you're on the Tampa Police Department's SWAT team, taking the plunge comes with the territory.

"We're surrounded by bodies of water," said Lt. Rich Mills, who leads the team, officially known as the Tactical Response Team. "We have to know how our bodies are going to react and how our equipment is going to react."

During a recent training at a city pool, SWAT members were familiarized with something called "The Chair." It simulates a helicopter crashing into Tampa Bay.

A team member is strapped in, the device spins, and the team member is flipped upside down.

"Upside down is typically what happens with a helicopter goes in the water," Mills explained. "You're having to operate upside down, so we want people to be comfortable with that." 

The team member then has to locate the buckle on their harness, release it, and swim to the surface.

Mills offered me a try in "The Chair" and I took him up on it. I was pretty sure I could negotiate the harness upside down, but  I wondered if I would be disoriented. 

"Autorotation!" yelled the training officer, and upside down I went  - underwater! Sure enough, the buckle was no problem, but as I was swimming out  I slammed my head into the metal frame. No, I didn't slam it that hard, but I did miss the mark getting out cleanly.

The next time I tried, it was much more comfortable. Mills said that's the point of training, to be ready for the real thing.

"Confidence," he said, is one of the biggest benefits of training.

Not all of it takes place in the water, but in Tampa, they have to be prepared.

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