The Pickerington Police Department has been authorized to purchase diving equipment to facilitate its search-and-recovery efforts.

The Pickerington Police Department has been authorized to purchase diving equipment to facilitate its search-and-recovery efforts.

For the past year, Pickerington Detective Jason Bontrager has served as his department's lone member of the Fairfield County Special Operations Rescue Unit. The group of volunteer public safety officers regularly responds to calls for assistance throughout Fairfield County, as well as other nearby communities that don't have specialized rescue-and-recovery capabilities.

Thus far, Bontrager primarily has used equipment donated to the Pickerington Police Department several years ago. He also uses the special operations unit's equipment, which is stored in an emergency-response vehicle kept in Lancaster.

Within the next two months, Bontrager's job capabilities are expected to be supplemented by a drysuit he'll store in his police cruiser. It will be specially designed to protect him when he enters waters contaminated with chemicals, blood or other substances, and will cut down on his response times since he'll have the gear immediately at his disposal.

The new supplies and equipment are being made possible by Pickerington City Council, which on April 19 unanimously approved spending $3,500 for the new underwater gear.

"(Bontrager) has some of his own equipment, but not much," Pickerington Police Chief Mike Taylor said. "He needed a diving suit of his own.

"This will completely take care of him."

Bontrager, a 10-year veteran of the Pickerington Police Department, is the only public-safety certified diver on the force.

He said he originally began diving as a hobby, but after becoming certified, he thought back to the donated diving gear and went on to obtain public-safety diving certification.

"I started thinking throughout my career of how often it would've been handy to have this type of unit," he said.

In addition to his work with the countywide dive-and-rescue team, the new equipment will help him respond to a variety of aquatic-related issues, such as when a vehicle goes in a body of water or if evidence from a crime is dumped under water.

"There's always a need here and there for a diver," Taylor said.

Bontrager said few mid-sized to small communities have their own diving teams, so in addition to improving safety and recovery services in Pickerington, the equipment will help those efforts throughout central Ohio.

"We're helping other agencies that don't have that type of capability, as well as our own," he said.