by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Around the world, various groups and organizations work to protect and support local communities through public safety activities. One particular group of public servants who can be found in almost any community consists of firefighters. Each day, firefighters work to save lives, fight fires, provide medical support, and in certain cases provide special team capabilities for communities. Special team capabilities may include search and rescue, hazardous materials decontamination, dive operations, and other things.
Each day, firefighters use specific gear designed to keep them safe in hazardous environments. This equipment includes items for exposure protection, breathing, and performing tasks. In many ways, the gear carried by firefighters is very similar to scuba gear carried by public safety divers and that gear often serves many of the same purposes. Listed below are some examples of these similarities.
- Turn Out Gear
First, firefighters carry equipment for personal protection. This gear consists of a jacket, pants, boots, gloves, and a helmet. The jacket and pants are designed to be fire-resistant and are often adorned with reflective markings for increased visibility in poor conditions. Similarly, the gloves provide hand protection as a firefighter may reach for hot objects and the boots are designed to be puncture resistant since they may be worn in dangerous environments. Lastly, the helmet protects a firefighter’s head from falling objects or airborne debris.
Like firefighters, public safety divers wear equipment for personal protection. Dry suits are often worn to protect divers from hazardous environments and to provide thermal regulation in poor conditions. Gloves are worn to protect the hands as divers perform searches and boots cover the feet (weather mounted to a dry suit or worn over soft soles) to ensure a diver can walk and move in a proper fashion. Divers even wear helmets on occasion when overhead environments or debris in the water may present the possibility of a possible head injury. Just like firefighters, public safety divers must wear equipment designed to protect them from harsh environments so that rescue or recovery operations can be performed. Similarly, the majority of personal protection equipment designed for public safety divers also has reflective taping just like the equipment worn by firefighters.
- Breathing Apparatus
When a firefighter enters a burning building, the presence of smoke may reduce the firefighter’s ability to breath in a safe fashion. To When a firefighter enters a burning building, the presence of smoke may reduce the firefighter’s ability to breath in a safe fashion. To overcome this issue, each firefighter may wear a self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA. An SCBA provides clean breathing gas on demand to a firefighter wearing a mask that covers his or her face. In comparison, divers cannot breathe underwater without the availability of breathing gas. Public safety divers often carry cylinders which feed compressed breathing gas to second stages attached to full-face masks. Like firefighters, full-face masks are worn to provide a clean breathing space and facial protection from the outside environment.
In both situations, cylinders are carried by public safety personnel. These cylinders must be analyzed and inspected for use. The Department of Transportation requires hydrostatic testing to be performed on cylinders every five years, and developed standards within the scuba industry call for a visual inspection every 12 months. The process of performing a visual inspection is something that public safety personnel can now be trained to do for his or her department (and for personal cylinders) through Scuba Diving International.
- Alarms and Computers
Many firefighters carry personal safety alarms when they are called to fight fires. The purpose of the alarm is to sound after a period of non-movement. The alarm is designed to inform others that a firefighter is in trouble as well as to signal his or her location. These alarms are called personal alert safety systems or PASS devices. Often they are worn in conjunction with a firefighter’s breathing apparatus. Similarly, public safety divers often wear computers designed to collect data and provide information related to safety. If a diver ascends too quickly or does not follow the proper profile, audible or visual alarms will signal to the diver.
With regard to tools, firefighters use many. These tools may include axes, hammers, lights, ropes, crow bars, shovels, halligan bars, wrenches, and various other items. These tools allow firefighters to perform tasks in as safe a manner as possible. Like firefighters, public safety divers may carry many different tools. These tools may include lights, knives, shears, metal detectors, pry bars, window punches, line cutters, and various other items. Though the tools used by public safety divers may not be as “heavy-duty,” they are often used for similar purposes. In each case, a public safety individual may need to cut, pry, bend, break, or even find an item. Tools are used to complete necessary objectives.
- Buddy Teams
Finally, though it is not an equipment factor, both public safety divers and firefighters use buddy teams. Firefighters often maintain a “two in – two out” plan. The goal is that a paired team enters a dangerous environment together and then the pair exits together. Public safety divers work in the same fashion. A diver either dives with a buddy in the water, or attached to a tender via a tether. In each situation, every diver maintains a buddy at all times and the diver and buddy care for each other until the dive is complete.
Public safety personnel often perform similar tasks and use instruments to complete objectives that are very comparable. The working environment may be the real difference. Essentially, divers work in an aquatic environment whereas firefighters often deal with flames. Despite differing environments, equipment is generally designed to suit similar needs in these differing environments. These similarities are what make operational changes and transitions more acceptable for people serving in more than one role. A firefighter may be trained to deal with burning buildings, but when the need arises, with proper training that same firefighter can adapt to perform dive operations. The fact that the equipment has similar functionality only makes these transitions easier to understand and the use of similar equipment more sensible.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba – Garner, NC