by Thomas Powell

Public safety divers are a group of men and women who face arduous tasks in difficult conditions. For this reason, divers working within this field must be prepared for problems, issues, and unforeseen scenarios. To achieve preparedness, skill sets must be mastered to the point of achieving true muscle memory. Essentially, problem management must be prepared for, practiced, and made manageable when possible.

To establish a problem-prevention practice plan, certain skills can and should be practiced on every dive associated with public safety diver training. The first of these skills is mask removal. Divers who use full-face equipment often get used to facial encapsulation and get “rusty” in regard to using a traditional mask and second stage. Firefighters face the problem to an even greater degree because of the similarities between full-face SCUBA masks and SCUBA regulator systems. Essentially, individuals get used to using a gear type, and have problems reverting back to something different. For this reason, when conditions are safe, public safety divers should practice bailing out of a full-faced unit and switching to a back-up mask and regulator. Removing and replacing complex gear can become complicated when an individual is already task loaded during problematic situations. Practice and repetition establishes muscle memory and a higher degree of comfort when faced with a challenge. When confronted with equipment failure, divers will be better prepared to remove a full-face mask and switch to backup equipment.

Second, placing and releasing marker buoys is a common task in public safety diving. Instructors and team members often tell stories of bad buoy placement that caused damage to a crime scene or evidence. Often, when teams train, basic buoy placement can be overlooked when seeking to accomplish and learn other tasks. Marker placement may also be viewed as a secondary task that should already be known and understood. Most public safety divers are trained to carry a marker buoy of some type when performing search operations. If an item is found, the buoy is placed and the marker is launched. There is no reason to avoid practicing safe and proper placement. Once a diver learns to identify and make use of proper tie off points, the diver can begin to recognize and reference locations that may be effective while performing a true search. Similarly, knot tying is something learned throughout public safety training. Repetition in the classroom may cause practical exercises to become “skimmed” over or overlooked. In many instances, divers under stress are quick to tie off markers in the easiest fashion and using whatever knot is at the forefront of their minds. Practicing proper knots will establish muscle memory and recognition of what types of knots will provide the most secure hold in a specific situation. A lack of practice may allow divers to forget basic knots and revert to insecure or ineffective solutions when tying off a line.

Third, entanglement is an issue often faced by public safety divers. On any given dive, public safety divers may cope with submerged trees, fishing line, wires, guide line, or a myriad of other potential “hang-ups.” Many instructors design entanglement hazards to train divers how to deal with these types of hazards. Practice helps a diver remain calm, and determine if an entanglement can be removed, cut away, or if gear bail-out is necessary. Purposeful entanglement with diver support can help divers learn how to relax and remove themselves from problematic environments. For that matter, entanglement practice may lead to the practice of gear removal and replacement under supervision to ensure a diver can go to extreme lengths if needed to get to safety. Entanglement practice may also encourage the use of tools and cutting devices. This possibility enforces refresher education in regard to equipment placement-recognition, equipment use, and even back-up diver support activities.

Finally, the list of possible skills to practice on every public safety training dive is extensive. Some other skills that could help any team or dive team member improve with practice includes decontamination and line laying. Often public safety divers practice mission scenarios and overlook decontamination walk-throughs on a full scale. When bad situations arise, a lack of practice could cause harm if a diver is not decontaminated properly. Similarly, advanced divers such as cave divers practice laying line extensively. This is a skill that could become essential when a public safety diver finds his or herself entering confined areas in limited visibility. Public safety divers must understand that the PSD arena within the diving community is as complex, difficult, and dangerous as any other. Practicing lines could save a diver’s life, if he or she is trained to perform this act as a common standard.

The phrase “practice makes perfect” is something that most people have heard at some point in their lives. This phrase rings true within the public safety diving community. If we do not refresh our memories and work through basic skills with regularity, those skills can become difficult or even forgotten. Divers should always take the time to not just improve, but to maintain personal skill and efficiency. Divers who can achieve this objective become more valuable to a team and are more likely to find success when faced with serious issues.

– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

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