Train the Right Way

By: Mike McNeil

How often does your team train? Who’s showing up to train? Is it quality training? These are questions that you should ask yourself when you train, as well as on any public safety dive (PSD) incident.

Is your team doing the minimum amount of training just to stay current? Or is your team raising the bar high to excel in every situation? Look around at any PSD incident. You’ll be able to identify the teams that have been training, putting in the time, the effort and the dedication to being the team everyone wants on their call. The efficient and effective get the job done safely. How do you become that team? Training.

Are all your team members showing up? 

Do you have a team of twelve, but the same six always show up for training? Training is necessary to keep your skills sharp and maintain your proficiency. I worked with many brothers and sisters throughout my years in the fire service. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I’m ropes certified,” but then that same person struggled with simple knots. Their reasoning? “I took that class years ago”.

As we all know, when it comes to knowledge and skills, if you don’t use it, you lose it. I watched a dive/water rescue team at the local pool. They swam 100 yards, then tread water for ten minutes. That was their quarterly water training. Do you see the problem with that scenario? This brings us back to the ropes class. The problem is complacency. Merriam-Webster defines complacency as “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies”. Complacency is how we get injured or worse.

All members need to train and train together as often as possible. 

That training needs to be quality, realistic training. Scuba diving, and other in-water activities, carry with them risks and PSD, especially in blackwater, multiplies those risks exponentially. How do we mitigate those? Think outside the box. Not all blackwater training needs to be done in blackwater. The use of a blacked-out mask simulates the same environment for the diver. Meanwhile, others can maintain good visibility and would be better able to monitor and assist while in the water and on land. This is also a great opportunity to cross-train your people. Start training your tenders to divers, and divers to supervisors in this controlled environment. But, do not just train this way. There is no substitution for the real thing. Quality training is also training in the environments you might be called to for an incident. It is training as a team, working together and putting the right people in the right positions. You cannot know those positions unless you train.

Let no man’s ghost return to say his training let him down. This statement can be found in firehouses all around the world as a reminder of the dangers of the job and should be applied to everyone’s approach to public safety diving. As public safety divers, we need to leave our egos at home and have a realistic view of both our team’s abilities and our own, and that once again comes down to training. So, train as though your life depends on it because unfortunately when it comes to PSD, it might. It is not just your life that may depend on it, but also your teammates’ lives. Do not be the complacent member of the team that says, “Yes I’m a PSD, but that course was a long time ago”. Being forty feet down in blackwater is not the time for you to realize you can no longer tie a longtail bowline blindfolded. No one wants the person who shows up to the bare minimum of training hours, in order to stay current, as their backup diver. So, do not be those people.

Take training seriously, dedicate yourself and become the go-to person. 

Make training more enjoyable and fun, instead of those who make it seem like work. Remember, safety is the most important aspect of training, as well as any call. When it comes to that call and the safety of your personnel on that call, safety relates back to your training. The more you train, the more your skills improve, the more muscle memory you build, the better a public safety diver you become. Let me challenge every one of you. Be that team, that diver, that tender that everyone wants to turn to. Better yourself through training, not just training yourself but others as well. Pass the knowledge along and cross-train. Be the team that gets assigned command upon your arrival because of your abilities, skills and knowledge.

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