Public Safety Diving Lessons Learned from Recovery Operation

by Eric Brooks, SDI/TDI/ERDI Instructor Trainer #8699:
##On September 5, 2014 the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Dive Team was called out to assist Graham County Sheriff’s Office with the recovery of a potential drowning victim. The mission (as described in a news brief written by Sgt. Ursula Ritchie) lead to the successful recovery of a 26-year-old male who failed to complete the swim across the lake. A debriefing and eventual after-action report emphasized several lessons learned from the dive mission. Those lessons and their potential benefits to future missions are the focus of this article.

The mission consisted of setting up an inflatable raft 100 feet off shore of the boat ramp to use as a dive platform to search the area between 100 and 200 feet from shore, and deploying a second diver to search the area from shore to 100 feet out (to the raft). Dive team one consisted of ERD Instructor Bill Jordan and two ERD tenders Mike Turner and Wayne Hughes (who would act as the tender for the backup diver, ERD Instructor Trainer Eric Brooks). Their mission would be to search the far area using the raft as a dive platform Dive team two consisted of Eric Williams, Dominic Epps and Scott Schneeweis. Their mission would be to search the area between the boat ramp and the raft. Additionally, ERD tender Travis Chesna and Graham County SAR member Tom Sawyer operated the team’s dive boat, and acted as the mission safety officers and team shuttle. After diver number two got tangled in the raft anchor line, his search pattern was reduced to prevent further entanglement. Once both divers completed their initial search of their assigned areas, backup diver Brooks deployed to search the area around the raft anchor that had been an obstacle to diver Williams. The search around the anchor eventually lead to the recovery of the victim.

What lessons can be learned from this mission? First and foremost, it is important to utilize all members of your dive team in the planning process. By discussing the “plan” and asking junior/new members of the dive team how they think the mission should be run, you give them a chance to think through the process. This will become more beneficial on future missions as their experience, training and skills improve and they become ready to run missions on their own. This type of experience helps to build confidence and gives team members situations to draw from to use for future missions. Additionally, utilizing all of the members on the team helps to keep interest. CCSAR is a volunteer dive team. Having members take an active role in the mission keeps them interested and excited about future trainings and diving opportunities.

The second lesson learned deals directly with the search area. Having documentation on what areas were searched and what areas need to be researched is important so that areas are not missed. With this specific mission, the second dive team had an issue in their search area and it was decided to proceed, omitting the problem area, and then returning to it at a later time when the anchor could be removed. As it turned out the victim was in the problem area. Our team uses a backup tender to map the dive area using a form developed specifically for this purpose (see attached photo). With multiple search areas, the incident commander in conjunction with the dive team leader can look at all of the mapped searched areas and determine if any area was missed, or poorly searched. In this particular mission it was important to completely eliminate the first 200 feet from the boat ramp out towards the middle of the lake before moving the operation farther from shore. Additionally, these maps could become part of the chain of evidence in a trial, and therefore, should be signed by the cartographer and kept on file.

The third lesson learned involves diver training and staying current in your dive skills (and tether line communications). As it turns out one of the divers who showed up to the mission was not allowed to dive because of a lapse in his training. He was given support duties and at the end of the mission, he was allowed to dive to refresh his skills in order to become reactivated. As it turned out he was unable to successfully complete his refresher and it became apparent that the call to not allow him to dive was the right call. On that same note, divers and tenders need to practice their line communication, as these are perishable skills. We utilized full-face masks with communications, but our team is still trying to work out some of the bugs with our units, so we actually dive using both line pulls and voice communications. The point here is that it is important for team members to stay current with line signal just in case voice communications becomes inoperable. (We have also planned a future training session to work on our voice communication issues.)

With the successful completion of a mission and/or training it is important for dive teams to assess the lessons learned during these events. These lessons can become the focus of future training sessions as well as key factors to remember when conducting actual dive missions in order to make them safer and more successful.

Eric Brooks is the owner of ProTech Scuba LLC and an SDI/TDI/ERDI Instructor Trainer. He has been a volunteer member of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue since 1999. For questions and/or comments about the article or becoming an ERD Instructor you can email him at

Serving My Country & Community

by Darren Pace:
PS Divers deploy from helicopterVeterans returning from the nation’s longest military deployment in Afghanistan and other Middle East countries face an uncertain transition to civilian life. More than 21.4 million vets increased the country’s workforce in 2013, and competition for jobs becomes intense for these returning heroes. Demobilization promises continued increases of armed services personnel who will need civilian job placement. Public service jobs are often the first choice of men and women who have placed their lives in jeopardy, and public safety diving (PSD) is among the most popular careers for vets who are used to following strict chains of command, performing exciting physical tasks and ensuring security and safety of civilian and military communities.

Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) courses provide training for people who are interested in continuing to serve public safety while earning competitive salaries. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies employ diving personnel to conduct underwater inspections, recover bodies and evidence and map underwater areas for engineering, scientific and industrial purposes. True heroes from the armed services are increasingly choosing these careers to support their country and communities by putting their skills to work as police divers, rescue staff and members of emergency response teams.

PSD Public Safety Divers Handle Many Critical Emergency Services

Divers collect evidence, recover bodies, rescue people, interdict contraband and inspect coastal areas. The work is often done in challenging waters, hazardous conditions and limited time-frames, so the parallels with combat are significant. Divers recover weapons, vehicles and people, triangulate search areas, maintain chains of custody, photograph evidence underwater and arrange to bring critical materials to the surface.

Assignments and Positions for Divers

Armed services men and women make ideal candidates for public safety diving careers because they are physically fit, used to obeying orders, highly organized and experienced in working as part of a team. Job seekers can find positions as team leaders, primary divers, secondary divers and tenders who provide logistical help for underwater dive teams, researchers and evidence technicians in law enforcement. Typical public safety diving jobs include the following duties:

  • Collect evidence and recover bodies in criminal cases and disaster scenarios.
  • Map underwater areas for engineers, scientists and community organizations.
  • Provide security for state visits, concerts and celebrations.
  • Rescue people in maritime accidents.
  • Deal with underwater threats such as bombs, oil and gas leaks and hazardous chemicals.
  • Strengthen borders by inspecting river, lake and ocean coastlines.

Obstacles and Opportunities for Vets

Increased competition for jobs among the pool of returning vets complicates their employment outlook, and many younger job seekers have spent years honing their skills at interviewing, resume writing and networking, which puts qualified vets at a disadvantage. Vets often find that they must pass new tests and plow through licensing hurdles to get civilian jobs even when their experience has left them eminently qualified. Other challenges of adjusting to civilian life include:

  • Getting treatment for PTSD and disabilities
  • Paying for certification and training while needing to generate an income quickly
  • Using military-style skills in corporate environments
  • Transitioning from using the most advanced technology to operating with commercial equipment

Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) training provides unique opportunities for armed services personnel who are used to working in highly structured chain-of-command situations with the most advanced equipment. Physically fit and often experienced in diving operations in hostile or hazardous situations, vets enjoy advantages when competing for jobs in public service, police and fire departments, emergency response teams and federal law enforcement agencies.

Experienced armed services men and women can qualify for these exciting careers in only a few months by getting certified through ERDI training. Many government incentives provide assistance for armed services people to transition to civilian life. These programs include disability assistance, training incentives and financing, the GI Bill and employer tax credits.

Veterans might face challenges when looking for civilian careers, but thousands of returning service men and women are exploring the benefits of continuing in public service as police divers, public safety divers and other law-enforcement and security-specialist occupations. Unlike their counterparts in the civilian workforce, vets who end up underwater don’t owe the bank but can bank on using their armed services skills in rewarding and lucrative careers.