What I Wish I Knew Prior to Starting My ERDI Course

By: Lauren Kieren

Hunched over the side of an Olympic sized swimming pool working to catch my breath after a long strenuous swim, I find myself thinking about my ERD 1 course to come. I have been preparing for this course for the past three weeks by swimming my tail off every night in anticipation of physically challenging water work in training.

I will be honest, I thought I had a pretty good idea on what to do to prepare for your first ERD 1 class until I had one of those metaphorical “punch you in the face”, wake up calls in the middle of class letting me know I really wasn’t ready after all.

It wasn’t the water work and it wasn’t searching for items in zero visibility or doing rescue exercises in a flowing river. It had absolutely nothing to do with any of that.

The most challenging moment in this class happened while sitting inside the comfort of a classroom.

I made a mistake in prepping for training and I wish I knew this prior to starting my first ERDI course. I focused on the physical challenge of this course and neglected the mental.  In public safety diving – physical and mental readiness go hand-in-hand. You are not prepared for this type of diving with one or the other, you need both to be successful.  I realized this the moment I sat in a cozy classroom listening to a story told by the instructor.

Public safety divers experience traumatic stress and grief in their line of work.

The late night calls lasting hours in miserable conditions that lead to time away from their families. The mental challenge and struggle for balance in this line of duty can take a toll over time. To help us understand this struggle, our trainer shared his experience of a call that forever changed his life.  It was a cold winter morning in the mid-west and his team was called to recover the body of a child who had fallen through ice.  By the time they arrived, the victim’s family and media were present and all were aware this was a recovery, not a rescue.

After cutting through ice and prepping for the search, the divers submerged to find the lifeless body of a young boy who could have been mistaken for a porcelain doll.  While bringing him to the surface, they realized he was literally frozen.  This is the moment I felt a gut wrenching wakeup call letting me know I was not ready for this type of diving.

Was it just me?  I looked around the room full of firefighters and police officers to find just about every person had tears in their eyes, including the instructor as he recapped more horrific details of the story I cannot even put in writing. I couldn’t help but ask myself in that moment, what separates them and I in ability to do this kind of work?

I consider these people modern day super heroes

Almost all public safety divers are either full time or volunteer fire fighters, EMS, or police officers.  I consider these people modern day super heroes; people who dedicate their lives to serving their communities and do the work that give most people nightmares.  Burning buildings, live gunfire, and managing emergencies where people lose their lives are a large part of their daily life.  While never easy, they are more accustomed to putting their lives on the line to do the unthinkable and most difficult jobs.  Whereas I am simply a technical diver.  My life is dedicated to pushing limits for fun and exploration and that is the difference between us.  No matter how much experience I have diving, there is little a class can do to prepare me to handle a real public safety dive.

As a lifetime learner, I took this course to gain more information and insight on public safety diving.  I accomplished that objective and in doing so, realized this area in diving isn’t for me at this phase in my life.  Do I wish I knew that prior to starting the course?  Certainly not.  The experience was worth so much to me and as a result, my hat will be forever off to public safety divers.

Whether you have aspirations to become a public safety diver or simply want the experience to learn more about this area in diving, I highly recommend taking the ERD 1 course. For more information or to find an ERDI Dive Center or Instructor near you, click here.

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