By Mark Phillips
A family of 3 is murdered. The killer eludes the police and manages to get rid of the weapon used by tossing it off of a bridge. A suspect is eventually apprehended and he confesses to the crime and describes where the weapon is…
A severely depressed mother of newborn twins decides she can no longer cope with her life and the stresses of motherhood. She drives to a local lake and parks in front of the boat ramp. Summing up what determination she has left, she takes a number of pills and swallows them down with a quart of vodka. When she begins to feel the effects of the combination of chemicals, she puts her car in gear and floors the accelerator. The car floats 75 yards or so and sinks to the bottom with her and her two children still strapped into their car seats in the back seat.
A carjacker is spotted by local police and they begin a high speed pursuit in the middle of the night. The carjacker loses control of the vehicle and slams into a hundred year old oak tree. He survives the impact and manages to run into the darkness. The police are right behind him and begin a foot chase. He runs into a park pond and attempts to swim away from pursuit. The police watch him without giving chase. He makes it about half way before he tires and realizes he cannot make it to the far shore – or any shore. As he screams for help one of the police officers begins stripping off his gear with the intention of attempting a rescue but before he even gets his gear off, the suspect vanishes underwater.
What do these three events have in common?
Someone is going to go underwater and make a recovery.
When the dive team is called out, the team functions like a machine: every move choreographed and efficient while working out the details of the event and planning the dive. When it begins, it is not the diver or even the scene officer who is the conductor of the dive, it is the Line Tender.
The functions on scene and job requirements may include scene management, Incident Command, Recorder, or more. It is possible to run a dive mission with 4 team members but they must be very good at what they do and capable of working at ANY position required.
There must be at least 4 team members on site to function within acceptable safety margins for a typical dive team. The 4 team members will be identified as Primary Diver, Backup Diver, Safety Diver and Line Tender. These 4 team members must be able and CAPABLE divers – capable of diving on this mission.
Once a location is determined, a pattern agreed upon and the backup diver is ready, the primary diver and line tender can begin their search. The other team member(s) can continue to dress or gather information etc.
The line tender maintains contact with the diver at all times via either a tethered line or umbilical. Through this contact the line tender is able to communicate with the diver and direct him efficiently through the water even if the diver is in zero visibility. The diver has little to do other than maintain a taut line and execute the instructions sent by the line tender while performing his search.
But like any conductor, the line tender is only as good as the people working with him. Someone has to manage the other aspects of the dive. Each team member functions in his assigned position. Each position supports another and together they form a consolidated group centered on the line tender.
Take any single part out of the equation and the mission will likely fail. While it is possible to consolidate jobs, the line tender has many responsibilities including keeping the diver safe, defining the search area, managing the search pattern, recognizing breathing patterns of the diver and knowing when something has changed. The line tender must manage the line tethered to the diver and work to prevent entanglements and note their locations. If an emergency erupts, it is the line tender that makes the announcement and launches the backup diver.
But without proper training, repetition and experience the position of line tender seems to sometimes get less attention in training or importance than it should. Every team member should be trained and capable of functioning at each position during a dive mission. The diver gets a lot of attention because it is the diver who is the most at risk. But it is the line tender that manages the diver, runs the pattern and is tasked with keeping the diver as safe as possible.
When was the last time your team focused on the line tender position as the primary training topic? When was the last time you were a line tender? If the diver gives you four tugs, do you know what it means? If the line goes slack – what do you do? If the diver finds what he is looking for, then what? Practice as a team and practice each position.
Before the dive, at a minimum the tender should:
- Assist the diver don equipment
- Record beginning pressure and verify all equipment is functioning properly.
- Establish a minimum PSI
- Establish maximum depth
- Establish maximum bottom time.
- Review line signals
- Review procedure for diver in distress.
- Review procedure for “Object Found”.
Teamwork, cooperation and communication make for a successful dive mission.
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