Do You Have What it Takes to be Part of a Public Safety Dive Team?

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
do you have what it takes

What does it take to be a member of a dive team? I get that question quite often from individuals looking to go further in diving or seeking to find some way to be more involved within their communities. Standards state that a person must be open water certified, trained in first aid and CPR, and over the age of 18 to participate in an ERD 1 course. Aside from this, most teams develop basic standards and guidelines used to create and maintain team rosters.

The real underlying question is what type of person does it take to be a public safety diver? A public safety diver must be a person who is willing to be available at any hour of the day. He or she must be willing to endure bad weather conditions in “hard-to-get-to” locations. A public safety diver must be prepared for the worst and willing to face bad diving conditions. Basically, various character traits are essential in a good public safety diver.

First and foremost

First and foremost, a public safety diver must be physically fit. A person who is entering the water in service to others must be physically capable of not only providing assistance, but also caring for his or her self. Essentially, the public safety diver must be able to instill confidence in others that he or she will not quit because of physical exertion. Failure to maintain physical fitness might cause a diver to become a victim during stressful situations.


Second, a public safety diver must have integrity. A diver must be accountable to his or her team and the community. Each team member must be reliable to accomplish the mission at hand, assist other team members at tasks, and support one another whether assistance is requested or not. Similarly, each dive team member must be able to adapt to changing situations. In the public safety community, “Murphy” is always present. Situations can change at any moment, and team members must be ready to solve problems and adapt as needed. A public safety diver is a member of a team. The team must function as a cohesive unit made up of skilled adaptable members. This factor means that public safety divers must be capable of dealing with high stress scenarios in a calm and effective manner.

Recently an article was published through TDI about “manning up” in stressful situations. This article was written by my colleague Josh Norris. He is an individual who has served in combat, trained Marines, worked as a public safety diver, and trained public safety divers. His point in his article is that sometimes a diver must gather internal fortitude and take action. In some cases, any action is better than no action. In the public safety diver community, every dive is a dangerous dive. When things go wrong, the diver in the water trusts his team mates to “man up” and be there for him. Josh’s point is that on certain occasions, a public safety dive team member must be able to rely on muscle memory and training when there is a need to take action. Immediate response based on learned skill sets may sometimes be the thing that saves a team mate when “Murphy” presents unforeseen problems.


Third, a public safety diver must be able to communicate. Divers of this type must be able to communicate and respond in a quick fashion. Similarly, public safety divers must often deal with community or media members. The ability to communicate relevant and acceptable information among team members, while managing information provided to the public requires skill and understanding. Within team operations, a break in communication could cause injury. When speaking to the public or representatives of the general public, a public safety diver must know what he or she is allowed to communicate, while doing so in a caring and understanding fashion. Essentially, public safety divers represent the community. They must be level-headed and compassionate for those around them while supporting operational activities.


Fourth, public safety divers encounter both good and bad days. There are those times when a team is called out to search for and/or recover bodies. In some cases, the missing individual may be a victim of foul play, or even a child. Witnessing body decomposition or the results of assault can alter the mental stability of almost any individual. Similarly, there are those long days when a team searches for evidence that may never be found or may not be present in the body of water being searched. Public safety divers must be able to cope with the bad things they will see and experience. This may mean having an open communication line to a team chaplain, or maintaining a quality support network among team members. This is another case where trust and respect among team members is not optional. Support and respect on the bad days makes things much sweeter on the good days where evidence is found, families are given closure, or the nail is placed in the court case against that “bad guy” who brought harm upon others.


Finally, a public safety diver must be dedicated. I have seen many teams carrying members who are only present to wear the t-shirt, get the badge, or to place responder lights in a vehicle. Members of this type are often not fully committed. Public safety dive teams face some of the worst diving conditions and each member, no matter his or her station, must be courageous and dedicated. Tenders must maintain focus on divers. Divers must maintain proper patterns and work to remain calm. Command personnel must keep the operational machine on track and ensure safety at all times. Even support staffers must be cognizant of what is going on at any time to provide assistance when needed. Similarly, each of these member types must maintain some level of “thick skin.” There will be times when community members are upset at the outcome of a dive or the team is feeling low because no successful finds have been made on a long dive day. Team members must take both negative and positive commentary in stride, and understand that sometimes the bad guy lies about where he or she placed evidence.

Do you have what it takes?

Public safety diving is a very unique type of diving and it takes a special individual to take on this type of role. If you are wondering if you have what it takes to be a public safety diver you should take some time to yourself and ask yourself a few questions. Are you dedicated to supporting a team and your community? Do you have the time to commit to a team that might be called out at any time? Are you willing to achieve and maintain a good level of physical fitness? Are you able to handle and cope with some of the bad things you may witness as a public safety diver? Lastly, can you handle long days in bad conditions while remaining focused on the task at hand? If you can answer yes to these questions, the next step is training. Becoming trained as a public safety diver and then working with your team to improve and maintain skill sets will give you many of the practical capabilities needed as a public safety diver. The rest is up to you, your team mates, and establishing the mental capacity to deal appropriately with both the good and the bad days.

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

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