On 18 October 2014, Lake EMS staff, Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department’s Water Emergency Team (WET), and crews from Quiescence Diving Services and Scuba-Do Dive Center joined forces for a memorial dive and installment of a commemorative plaque at the U.S.S. Spiegel Grove to honor the life of Captain Joseph Dragojevich Sr.
The Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department’s WET team, Capt. Rob Bleser and his crew from Quiescence Dive Center, along with staff from Scuba-Do Dive Center were the same entities who had been involved in the rescue and recovery efforts when Dragojevich perished in a diving accident at the U.S.S. Spiegel Grove exactly one year ago. An avid and experienced diver in his private life, Joseph Dragojevich’s professional life had been dedicated to saving others. He was a well-respected and well-loved District Chief with Lake EMS, serving Lake County Florida as a paramedic and field supervisor for more than 13 years.
Three boats carrying family, friends, emergency personnel, and divers traveled to the site of the U.S.S. Spiegel Grove, six miles offshore from Key Largo Saturday afternoon. Immediately upon arrival, Lake EMS Capt. Stewart Brown and Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department W.E.T. technical diver, Steve Schalk entered the water and dove down 96 feet on the port side of the ship where they installed a commemorative plaque which reads, “In Loving Memory of Joseph A. Dragojevich – June 11, 1970 to October 18, 2013.” Within 20 minutes, the rest of the divers joined Brown and Schalk to view and film the plaque.
While the memorial dive was taking place, family and friends not diving shared memories and stories of Dragojevich’s adventures, both professional and personal. When divers returned to the surface, a brief memorial service was presided over by Lt. Glenn Taylor, Chaplain with the Islamorada Village of Islands Department of Fire Rescue. The ceremony included the reading of a poem, a special prayer, and the release of a memorial wreath honoring Dragojevich. Memorial dive participants gathered for dinner later Saturday evening at Sundowners, one of Dragojevich’s favorite restaurants in the area, where Lake EMS Executive Director Jerry Smith recognized Capt. Rob Bleser of Quiescence Diving Services and Scuba-Do Dive Center for their professional service and guidance since the accident.
On Monday evening, 20 October, Jerry Smith presented an appreciation plaque to the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department at their District meeting. Smith expressed his heartfelt thanks to Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department’s WET and Battalion Chief James Griffeth for the assistance and support that they had given at the time of Dragojevich’s accident, during the rescue and recovery efforts, and that they have continued to give to Lake EMS throughout the planning and coordination of the Memorial Dive. The Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department and its Water Emergency Team are valuable public safety assets not only to the residents of their community but to those visiting the area. The professional expertise they offer has definitely been valued by Lake EMS and the Dragojevich family. As Smith explained, “At Lake EMS we display a compass on our patch to signify one’s internal True North. We recognize our employees for following their True North and going above and beyond in their jobs. Your team went above and beyond the call of duty for Lake EMS and Joseph Dragojevich and that will never be forgotten.” The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was unable to attend the District meeting but Smith thanked them also for their assistance since Joe Dragojevich’s accident. An appreciation plaque recognizing their role during the rescue and recovery will be presented at another time.