4 Things You Can Do to Become a Better PSD

by Dr. Thomas Powell:

Public safety divers are a special breed of professionals. The reality is that in many cases, they have already chosen to serve others through work and association with various public safety groups. They have then chosen to step up and become a member of a unique volunteer group within one of those organizations that searches for and recovers items in conditions that tend to be terrible. Think about it, how often do you encounter individuals who jump up and volunteer for the idea of heading to the water in middle of the night in the freezing cold just to search for something that is lost? Despite this unique mindset, many individuals join dive teams without realizing how complex and dangerous dive operations can become. Similarly, many dive team members join as basic open water divers with minimal experience. To help this type of individual be a better public safety diver, there are many actions he or she can take.

  1. Humble Yourself
    Remember that you are part of a team. For a team to be efficient, every member often has a critical role to play. You may have been the best athlete in school, or the top performer in past programs, but now you are part of a group that has standards, protocols, and experience. You will encounter men and women who have learned to adapt to unique circumstances, make recoveries when conditions are bad, and find items when there is little hope for success. The experience held by these individuals, good or bad, is something you can use to help yourself improve. Watch and learn. When you train, ask questions and practice what you learn. If you join a dive team thinking you are better than everyone else, these other individuals are less likely to share information and help you improve. If you humble yourself and take time to work with them, they may share years of knowledge that could save your life or the lives of others one day. There is always someone who will know something you do not. Take the time to improve by working with others to gain knowledge and ideas. If you take the time to get rid of the “I’m the best” mindset, you grow to become a much better public safety diver.
  2. Go Dive!!!
    The best thing you can do as a public safety diver is to go get wet. You may not always be in zero visibility conditions, but any time you practice your skills and spend time underwater you are gaining experience. I have encountered many dive team leaders and members over the years who have been members of an organization for over a decade, but have fewer than 100 dives. This means they are only diving during training and mission situations. Think of the recreational scuba world. To advance through certifications, there are often requirements for numbers of dives, or time underwater. Actually getting wet helps prevent you from “getting rusty.” You practice gearing up, diving, and even cleaning equipment after a dive. If you have to refresh yourself every time you train, how much time is being lost where you could be learning or practicing new skills? The basic premise for public safety diving is that you are first a diver. If you become a better and more proficient scuba diver, it only makes sense that you will be more comfortable, relaxed, and able to handle difficult situations in the realm of public safety diving.
  3. Education
    Remember that education keeps us moving forward. Do not skip on opportunities to learn when they present themselves. As members of public safety groups, dive team members often have access to attend various classes and programs. The more you learn the better resource you become. So whether you are participating in a recreational scuba class or attending and EMT course, you learn skill sets that could assist others during a dive operation. See what is out there and jump in with both feet.
  4. Fitness
    Finally, fitness is essential for public safety divers. Over the years I have seen both star athletes and obese individuals serve in roles on dive teams. The night will come where you have to haul gear to an odd location in the rain. If you wear yourself out and lose the ability to assist others, what good are you to your team members if you are serving as a safety officer, tender, or even diver if you cannot recognize or react to a bad situation because your body is over-stressed. Work for yourself or with your team to develop a physical fitness routine that helps you stay healthy. In a few cases I have even seen teams that worked with local nutritionists to improve and monitor eating habits to ensure improved team health. Make it a challenge for yourself and your team members. If we improve our bodies they will take better care of us when times get tough.

Being a good public safety diver is largely mental. You have to be able to remain calm, focused, and sensible. Racing to the water without a plan is typically a bad idea. Work to educate yourself, prepare your body and mind, and learn from those with experience. These simple actions will help you be better prepared when the bad days come and you are working with your team to help “put away the bad guy.”

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

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2 replies
  1. Corey Cooper
    Corey Cooper says:

    Corey Cooper here, I have been a SAR diver for over 4 years now, ESAR for 7, Fire Dept. for over 5 years. 500+ dives, Dive Con in training and Swift Water Rescue in training right now.

    I would like to add a few points to this article.
    1. Always go diving. Keep up on your skills. I have talked with career fire fighters on a couple of different departments that are on dive units within their department but don’t own any personal dive gear or go diving recreationally. I don’t blame them because it is very time consuming to go diving on your off time especially with a family and other commitments, but trust me when I say go diving as much as you can on your off time with your buddies. You will become more use to your gear and your surroundings. Diving on your off time keeps you up on your skills so when you are on a SAR mission you will less likely have a situation of anxiety, equipment failure, or operator error. Dive at night, dive off of boats, drift dive in current, dive at dive sites unfamiliar to you, practice your navigation, communication, search patterns, lift bags, ect…

    2. Mix up your dive buddies. We all have preferred dive buddies that we can talk telepathically with underwater and need minimal hand signals. Invite others to dive with you so you can get use to diving with someone your unfamiliar with. You could have a multi agency SAR mission that requires you to dive with a member of another dive unit.

    3. And a final thought would be to take all the diving classes you can to better your diving experience and expanding your dive training. Recreational dive classes will help you on SAR missions. I have taken dive classes like Deep Dive, Night and Low Vis, Underwater Photography, Stress and Rescue, Search and Recovery, Solo Diving, Underwater Investigation, ect… Any extra dive related training you can get outside of your dive unit will help make you a better diver and a better SAR diver as well as bringing some of those skills back to your team.

    It is true, we SAR divers are a rare breed. Most of us like my self are addicted to diving but it is a shame that the rest only dive very rarely. I have met divers on SAR dive teams that claim they have dove for years but when you ask them how many dives they have they have like 35 dives so they must average like 5 dives a year I guess. If I wanted my loved one recovered from the water I would choose the dive team with the most experience in the water to maximize their chances of success.
    Thank you


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