RIVERDALE -- Weber Sheriff's Office Sgt. Brandon Toll figured he might as well fill out a donation request at Firehouse Subs in Riverdale when he visited the restaurant several months ago for a night out with his family. Tuesday, he was back again with his other family: The Search and Rescue Team.
Toll, director of Weber County search and rescue, was there to receive four radio-equipped dive masks as a gift from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. The donation totaled more than $8,000.
"It's really incredible to have businesses like this that give back," Toll said. "This is really going to make (rescue missions) more safe and efficient for divers."
Weber County search divers have used underwater masks before, but none equipped with the ability to instantaneously radio rescuers on the surface of the water and other divers. The new masks are a leap in technology that speed up their rescue and recovery efforts, Toll said.
"It's an amazing capability that we just haven't had," Don Olsen, volunteer commander of Weber County search and rescue, told the dozens of the agency's volunteers who had come to celebrate. "Our ability to execute our missions more effectively and safely is immensely enhanced."
The masks accomplish more than instant communication; they also protect against other hazards associated with underwater rescue.
"You can imagine the environments we go into. It is dark, it is cold, and on occasion there are biological and chemical contaminants in the water," Olsen said, noting the high-end regulators in the mask protect rescuers from chemical exposure. "So the ability to take a full face mask, put this on and use these resources ... in an incident is just tremendous."
The technology is above and beyond typical diving equipment, he said.
"They're built for public safety use or military use," Olsen said. "The components in the regulators are significantly enhanced over what you might get somewhere else."
About 110 men and women work as volunteers for Weber County search and rescue, specializing in skills such as climbing, snowmobiling, diving and kayaking, among others. The agency relies on only three paid employees.
"Anyone who knows a little bit about how search and rescue works in our various counties knows there is absolutely no way -- there is just no possible way -- to fund search and rescue without the input and help and the assistance of organizations just like yours," Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson told representatives from the restaurant in attendance. "If the citizens and the taxpayers truly had to cover all the costs associated with search and rescue efforts, we could just never do it."
Thompson also praised the volunteer rescuers in attendance.
"These guys will drop the lives that they live in a heartbeat," Thompson said. "They leave work, they leave home, they leave family -- they sacrifice their time, and it's all worth it. They live to do this."
The first Firehouse Subs restaurant was founded by two firefighting brothers in 1994 and established the Public Safety Fund in 2005. The fund has generated about $8.3 million in donations to law enforcement and rescue agencies since that time, including $115,000 in Utah.
"We're more than just a themed restaurant," said the restaurant's regional representative, Randy Judd.
Judd, who attended Tuesday's celebration, said the foundation does hold fundraisers but chiefly raises money through selling its used pickle buckets for $2 apiece, installing drop boxes in each location and asking customers whether they want to donate by "rounding up" to the next dollar with each food purchase.
The pickle buckets may seem like a quirky money maker, Judd said, but the idea has been wildly successful across the chain's 700-plus locations.
"It might not seem like very much," he said, but "it adds up to thousands."
Contact reporter Ben Lockhart at 801-625-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Lockhart.