Posted on December 13, 2012

Sacramento: Call Center Employee Secures Community Grant for Water Rescue Team

By David Kligman

PG&E call center employee Christine Raines no longer works for the Sacramento Police Department, but police work remains close to her heart.

Members of the nonprofit Drowning Rescue Action Team use ropes to communicate between divers and "shore support."

Raines belongs to a volunteer organization that searches rivers and lakes for crime, accident and suicide victims, missing cars and even guns and other evidence that criminals toss into waterways.

The Sacramento-based Drowning Accident Rescue Team — called DART for short — works closely with authorities in Sacramento, Yolo, Sutter, Placer and El Dorado counties. Most of the group’s 30 members are experienced divers who use their skills at the request of authorities.

Raines recently secured a $1,000 Power Your Community Grant for the team, a nonprofit group funded solely by donations, grants and fundraisers like its annual crab feed and fireworks booth. The organization is one of 91 — all nominated by PG&E employees— selected for the grants, which total $100,000. Recipients come from throughout the utility’s Northern and Central California service area.

Fort DART, the money will help pay for costly equipment, including masks and “dry suits,” the vulcanized rubber suits the divers wear.

Christine Raines, who now works at PG&E, says her volunteer work requires to be ready at a moment's notice.

Bob Erickson, DART’s president, said that in addition to rescue and recoveries the team speaks to thousands of schoolchildren every year about the dangers of water.

“We encourage people to stay away from waterways when creeks or streams are overflowing,” Erickson said. “People want to go look at it but you need to be at a safe distance. The water is a powerful, powerful force. You can be up to your knees and a wave can come by and take you out. And now you’re at the mercy of that current.”

Guides divers

Though Raines is a recreational diver herself, she doesn’t dive for the group. She serves the important role of “shore support” — guiding team members who dive into the murky waters. The diver and the person on shore each holds a rope that they tug to communicate whether to go left, right, surface or search the immediate area.

“I’m the diver’s eyes on land,” said Raines, who also serves on DART’s board of directors as its secretary. “Most of the rivers in Sacramento are black water. You can’t see anything. I have the divers on the end of a rope. Wherever his bubbles are, I can tell him which way to go.”

She said DART is unlike many volunteer organizations because they’re always on call.

“You get a page, you go,” she said. “Our volunteer work is totally random. It could be 3 in the morning and you get a phone call. We know that.”

PG&E's grant was well received by the Drowning Accident Rescue Team, which is funded solely by donations.

As for her new career as a customer service representative, Raines said she’s thrilled to work for PG&E. She joined the utility last year after she was laid off due to budget cuts, though she remains on reserve status with the department. And like her job with police, she’s still helping others — whether it’s assisting customers with restoring power to their homes or answering billing questions.

Ultimately, she says DART’s work is needed even if the outcome of a search ends in tragedy. The team recently found the body of a missing teenage girl after three separate searches.

“We bring closure to families,” she said. “Without us, who knows if she would have ever surfaced and that family would never see that kid again and never have been able to bury her.”

Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.

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