Philadelphia Police Marine Unit highlights daily lifesaving duties along the Delaware River

If a day on the water turns dangerous, the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit will be there to help.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- With warmer weather and the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, more people are getting outside, especially on local rivers and lakes.

But if a day on the water turns dangerous, the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit will be there to help.

"We have to prepare for any incident involving the water," said Lt. Andrew Napoli explaining the role of the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit.

They cover 45 miles of navigable waterways but also creeks and streams.

"This truck is a jack of all trades. Has everything from scuba gear, it has chemical and biological detection equipment," said Napoli.

They respond to just about anything water-related.

That includes stolen ATMs that someone dumped into the Delaware River.

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Police diver Anthony Foley says sometimes the waters are very murky and difficult to see through.

"So if we're down there looking for evidence, looking for a body, it's pretty much, we get to the bottom, we're on our stomachs using our hands and feet," said Foley.

One of the toughest jobs Napoli says was in 2010, responding to a tugboat-guided barge that struck a Ride the Ducks boat along the Delaware River.

"Probably one of the most tragic situations I ever had to respond," he said.

The tug was steering a 250-foot barge along the river when the barge collided with the much smaller boat pushing it down into the deep murky waters. It ultimately sank.

"All we see was a sea of orange, whether it was people wearing their vests in the water or vests without people in them," said Napoli.

Napoli says 37 passengers were aboard the vessel when it capsized, 11 were injured, and two were killed.

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Police used a sonar device to find the boat, which sank 50 feet into the deep water channel.

"I was the first diver, I went down, and it was the Duck boat," said Napoli.

Another major incident was the Pier 34 collapse on May 18, 2000.

"The beeper went off, got called in, get here as fast as you can down here," said police diver Anthony Kowalski.

Kowalski says for him ranks as the worse incident he had to encounter.

Three women were killed when a nightclub on the pier collapsed into the Delaware River.

"When I go down there, it doesn't bother me psychologically wise. It's more or less, you're going down, you're helping to bring closure," said Kowalski.

Foley added, "It's tragic, but it does bring closure. That's one thing I like about the job."

The job has its challenges, especially when diving in frigid waters, but members of the marine unit will tell you it's still rewarding.

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