Off-duty firefighter is found dead in pool wearing scuba gear

Lake County coroner investigates death of veteran from Arlington Heights department

By Lisa Black Tribune reporter

12:16 PM CDT, June 2, 2008

The Lake County coroner's office is investigating the death of an off-duty Arlington Heights firefighter who was discovered unresponsive Sunday in a Vernon Hills pool wearing scuba gear, officials said Monday morning.

Donald Swisher, 51, of Wonder Lake had been helping open the pool at the Discovery Day Camp before he was found in 12 feet of water around 1 p.m., said Deputy Chief Kris Kazian of the Countryside Fire Protection District. The day camp is located within the 200 block of

U.S. Highway 45.

Swisher was pronounced dead at 1:50 p.m. Sunday at Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said Dr. Richard Keller, Lake County coroner. The coroner's office will perform the autopsy Monday afternoon to determine if Swisher had a medical problem or his equipment failed.

The office will have an expert analyze the scuba equipment to make sure it functioned property and check the quality of air in the tank, Keller said.

The pool also is being examined.

"The people at the camp are having people come in and take apart the drainage system of the pool to see if there was any evidence there that something he was wearing may have been caught up in the suction of the drainage pump," he said.

Swisher, who served on the dive team for his Fire Department, has worked for the Arlington Heights Fire Department since 1992, becoming a paramedic in 1995 and an engineer in 2000, according to Bernie Lyons, that department's deputy fire chief. He had previously worked for the Mundelein Fire Department and was highly respected by colleagues, Lyons said.

Swisher's file "is full of letters he's gotten over the years from citizens and people he's met on calls commending him for his compassion, his courage and his dedication to the fire service," Lyons said.

"He was always great with the kids on public education displays. He would always go the extra mile to show the kids what the fire engine does, what the tools do."

Swisher also served on the department's hazardous materials team and technical rescue team, Lyons said.

He also had earned a reputation as a skilled craftsman and cook. He helped fix appliances around the firehouse and "he ruled that kitchen with an iron fist," Lyons said. Chocolate chip cookies were one of his specialties.

"We will miss him terribly around here," he said. "He was a very experienced guy, very respected. Someone we looked up to."




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