WCSO Explorers dive into new challenge

CHIPLEY– The Washington County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Program is expanding opportunities for its students, having recently added an opportunity for students to earn their Professional Association Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water Diver certification. 

Five students were recognized this week as having earned the certification. Sheriff Kevin Crews said the students, who range in age from 13 to 17, have “gone above and beyond” to help the Sheriff’s Office during community events such as the WCSO Rodeo and the Panhandle Watermelon Festival. 

Deputy Dakota Jarvis heads up the Explorers program and said the idea came to him while he was planning activities and looking for something fun for the group to do.

Jarvis brought the idea to Sheriff Crews who was immediately on board, taking the idea a step farther and picking up the $1,500 training tab out of the community events fund.

Sheriff Crews said it was simply a way to “say thank you for a job well done.”

The students – Lilly Stephens, Audrey Stephens, Nicholas York, Oliver York, and Sawyer Cook – spent four days of training, which included two days in a pool and two days at Vortex Spring, where they dove to depths of up to 42 ft. in frigid cold waters. 

York says the certification will be useful for his future goals. 

“When I graduate, I intend on attending the law enforcement academy,” he said. “This certification gives me an advantage when beginning training to eventually become a search and rescue diver for a law enforcement agency.” 

Jarvis says with this certification, the students are now eligible to help WCSO at some scenes in a limited but effective capacity.

“Because they have this certification, we can have them at [dive scenes] to aid the Sheriff’s Office,” said Jarvis. “They will be what is called ‘surface tenders,’ which means they will be on the surface to hand us new air tanks or anything else we may need at the time to aid us in our search.” 

Sheriff Crews spoke at a recognition ceremony for the students on Tuesday, expressing his pride in their accomplishments. 

“We are proud to have you all as a part of this program and as a part of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office family,” he said. “By you taking part in this program, you are leading by example. I am certain that you all will continue to set a good example for those around you. I couldn’t be prouder.”