A Core Standard for a New Public Safety Diver

by Dr. Thomas Powell:

Public safety divers are unique everywhere you travel. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and every department has a different set of standard operating procedures or guidelines. Portions of these differences are based on different department rules and other reasons may be based on training agency or instructor-promoted standards. The reality is that these departments all perform similar tasks but seem to follow different rules and regulations. When teams work to achieve similar goals, a core standard for training is critical.

Why is standardization critical on scene?

Imagine you are on a scene. You have been working to establish a plan of action that will allow your team to perform a proper search for a missing item. You realize the scope and scale of the search is massive and the number of divers you have available will not support a safe and efficient search. To ensure a proper search is performed, you decide to open your mutual aid channels and request the support of two other dive teams. Once they arrive, their training drives them toward establishing differing search patterns using differing equipment. Shortly thereafter, you realize everyone is covering areas that have already been searched and certain areas are being left unsearched.

Now, imagine a core standard was developed for public safety divers. When you make this same request for assistance, the supporting teams arrive and fall into a matching set of search patterns with your own team. Over a short period, the combined efforts of the three teams cover a massive area and everyone can feel confident that proper searches were performed.


Safety is another major topic that a core standard for training can support. If teams are taught and practice similar safety protocols, they will be able to work together and accomplish tasks while better supporting one another. For instance, decontamination procedures, scene entry and exit methods, hazard identification, and safe diving practices are just a few topics that could be taught in a universal manner. As teams or team members interact, leadership personnel and safety officers could be confident that everyone is following the same basic practices to care for and monitor each other in a safe fashion. If a core standard is not established, teams may not be taught to monitor for certain problematic situations and the window for potential liability is increased.

Gear Differences?

Now what if one team involved in a search has 6 divers and a second team has twelve. To split the difference and ensure a proper separation of workloads, the decision is made to allow team members to from differing teams to work together. If the training performed by the two teams is different, team members will already have issues working together and understanding each other. If the equipment used by the two teams is different, even larger problems emerge. Rather than using training and muscle memory to recall how to support a diver in trouble, team members must work to memorize new equipment layouts. The use of differing equipment setups may allow mistakes to be made in a problematic situation. If teams are taught a basic standard for equipment use, types, and placement, there may be some minor differences between teams, but the generic layout for equipment may be similar enough to allow for safe dive support activities.

New Divers

New divers who are just entering the world of public safety diving require support. These individuals are seeking knowledge and help when going from the recreational training environment to black water operations. A core standard for training will allow “old hats” on a dive team to share knowledge and understanding while focusing on team needs and overall safety. Essentially, the diver is no longer enjoying boat dives in clear water. Instead, he or she is now facing encapsulation and low visibility. If a team has been taught how to adapt in an efficient manner to problematic environments, new divers can receive support and education from their own team members as they moves toward true public safety diver training. As a diver enters an ERD 1 class, he or she will also be taught basic protocols, techniques, and methods that when combined with experience and further education can develop a new public safety diver into an experienced professional.

A core standard for training public safety divers is essential. Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) has worked to develop a set of training protocols where equipment, safety planning, and operational activities are pre-designed to follow NFPA and OSHA guidelines. This type of training allows teams to become compliant with the requirements of these organizations and to follow similar set-up, staging, operational, and decontamination plans between one-another. Essentially, teams will understand that an ERDI trained dive team will operate and monitor safety in like fashions to other ERDI trained teams. This core training can improve safety and potential for operational success. If you are interested in looking at training opportunities within the ERDI programs, contact your local ERDI training facility.

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

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2 replies
  1. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    The issue is not every round peg fits every round hole. A team in southern Florida is different than Michigan. They face different problems. We all have to respect that. Most important basics matter. And personally in my work I find National rules a pain. Leave it up to the Individual State public safety training agencies to decide. I dont like corporations trying to interject policy for public safety. I have never seen any business that wasnt about self promotion. They cant succeed without it. It is business. And that has no place setting policy in our jobs. All of us have seen from individuals or teams that my company training is better than yours. Or ” I work for joe blow divers but i am one of you also at the fire dept. I would never make a rule for money”. Even though the same base NFPA and OSHA standards are taught. To some of us it starts to look like companies lining up for the windfall. I think many dive companies have made great strides in training for all diving. But inside our organizations is not the place for politics or lobbyist. Personally my PSD training was with ERDI. And it is great training. But I have other training that fits my needs also. Remember. These rules and standards once put in place leave no room for us in some instances to think out of the box for a given situation. They then tie our hands even more. And old Marine NCO once said in class, when your rule book gets to large you have already lost control. If Joe dive team down the street doesnt train and do what is needed it is his problem. But I dont need rules set on My team because Joe is an idiot, I am not responsible for Joe. Unless we are called to go find him. Also remember, you can use other dive teams with good training and methods a little different. Let them operate together. It is smart. I never want to mix in with divers I do not train with. It is a trust issue. And be careful. You wouldnt want a thousand Fire and Police Chiefs in one state getting their hands tied to tight. The reaction could be the formation of the state training office setting up a dive program for all PSD divers in a state that is not connected to any dive company, and only recognize that training for their State. And they could teach it at no cost to fire and police just like all other training. Money for many is an issue. This specialty training isn’t cheap.

    • Jonathan
      Jonathan says:

      I’m not sure where the writer is diving regularly, but in large parts of the country any local diving (i.e. cheap regular diving) is low visibility, cold, and often deals with currents and underwater obstructions – just what is needed for PSD.
      My local dive shop and experienced divers used to provide free dive services to the local fire/ police/ sheriff departments – but then they got a big grant for gear and training; the gear is nice but essentially recreational equipment and the officers were rushed through enough dives to get their advanced c card. The problem is that since this happened 3 years ago, the only time the officers get in the water is on their own time.
      The local departments won’t work with experienced local divers, they claim for liability reasons, but their own officers are so inexperienced they do a poor job on the rare occasion they are called out and are likely putting themselves at risk because they are out of practice.
      I understand wanting certain abilities in house, but you have to keep up with them – lapsed skills are a big potential problem.


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