Most divers seem to believe that the winter months of the year are a time to relax by the fire and enjoy time indoors. Conversely, a small number of divers realize this is the perfect time of year to prepare for the worst possible conditions. Around the United States, public safety dive teams, both volunteer and professional, take to the water. Icy conditions, cold wind, and bulky equipment do not stop these men and women from working hard to be prepared to help others in need.
Dive shops are the backbone of public safety dive teams. In many cases, shops provide the gear (via retail sales), the training, consultation, and general support. At Air Hogs Scuba, in Garner, North Carolina, the training staff has dedicated a large portion of time and effort toward helping public safety dive team members be the best divers they can be. Air Hogs Scuba runs public safety training programs year round in an effort to upgrade team qualifications and to keep dive teams in the water. Long breaks and time out of the water do not help teams retain skill sets and knowledge.
Each January, Air Hogs Scuba runs ERD Dry Suit Ops and ERD Full Face Ops programs to ensure divers can handle dry diving and basic encapsulation when it really matters. Similarly, the shop begins an annual fitness progression and evaluation program for any team willing to participate. From that point forward, the teams always dive dry and in full-face units for future classes. Essentially, divers and teams are better prepared to enter into ERD 1 and 2 or Tender classes, as well as other programs such as contaminated water or swift water. To capitalize on success, the shop has brought together a group of ERDI professionals to handle their needs and the recognized needs of dive teams. Two of these individuals are ERDI Instructor Trainers. In 2014, Thomas Powell, Josh Norris, Darrell Adams, and Rob Bradish combined teaching abilities and shared resources to find ways to better benefit public safety dive teams in North Carolina. This action has led to new programs, shared skill sets, mutual aid between teams, team interactions on an increased level, and improved teaching success. The goal for Air Hogs Scuba (in regard to public safety divers) has become: to better educate divers and improve their capabilities in the realm of emergency response operations.
ERDI programs are designed to teach divers how to be safe, responsible, effective, and skilled during any response operation. The other factors that should be noted in regard to ERDI are the OSHA and NFPA regulations with which they comply. These compliance actions taken by ERDI during program development help teams and departments avoid liability by following certain regulations during both training and operational activities. This is the biggest recognition that sells ERDI classes to dive teams. Companies such as Air Hogs Scuba work to sell the best class possible, while showing teams how to best protect their assets.
Teaching programs at Air Hogs Scuba have become more in-depth, and outside resources are being utilized. ERDI programs are being taught in conjunction with classes provided by the Office of the State Fire Marshall to improve knowledge and understanding based on regional needs. The North Carolina State Justice Academy has even offered a professional certificate for divers who achieve certain public safety diving academic accomplishments. These actions have ensured dive teams recognize the added benefit and value that can be professionally rooted in any ERDI program.
The goal of any public safety dive program within a dive business should be to improve knowledge and the overall skill sets maintained by the divers with which the business works. Well-educated, skilled divers ensure safer response scenarios and improved outcomes. ERDI has provided the avenue through which this goal can be achieved. Dive shops must simply find the best way to make use of the provided resources and help their local communities.