Funding Your Public Safety Dive Team – Part 2

By: Mark Phillips

On September 11, 2001, there were a series of coordinated terrorist attacks on the United States. In response to these attacks, The Department of Homeland Security was created. The Homeland Security Grant Program soon followed. “The purpose of the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) is to support state, local and tribal efforts to prevent terrorism and other catastrophic events and to prepare the Nation for the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk to the security of the United States.” Once they started receiving applications it seemed like the money tap was wide open.

It did not take long for municipal dive teams to tap into those grants.

Public safety teams were granted money for items they never had before or were able to replace worn equipment with the newest and best available. For a long time, it seemed like money flowed like water – if you knew how to write a grant. Businesses noticed. New “specialty” gear became available. Though at times it seemed like the “specialty” was just a color other than black and cost twice as much.

New technology and developing technology found a home with dive teams and previously unobtainable tools like surface supplied air, underwater communications, ROVs and Sonar systems became obtainable. Municipalities who never had a dive team before suddenly had the finances to fund and equip a dive team, purchase big ticket items- even custom boats.

And our genre of diving became popular.

We found that we were a sought after target audience because it appeared we were spending a lot of money. But things change. Today are reading news stories about teams being disbanded. We hear from teams that their funding is being cut – sometimes dramatically. Some of the equipment purchased with grant money is now going unused because there is no one left on the team who knows how to use it and no one thought to include the necessary funds in the grant for continuing education.

We are almost back to where we were pre 9/11. The grant money that flowed like water is harder to reach. There are more requirements to be met, more rules to follow and more strings attached. There is often a financial commitment on the grantee that some municipalities cannot or will not afford. Some teams that were built with grant money or advanced in that cycle are not getting to their second or third generations of membership. Every part of the field is feeling the impact. There are more training agencies now competing for business. With no consensus standard in place, individuals are now successfully competing for and offering their training to those same teams.

Face it, money has always been tight.

If you have not begun, now is the time to start planning ahead. If you are still able to apply for and receive grants, more power to you and congratulations. For everyone else, I have some suggestions that might help you find a way to fund or partially fund your team and will share the first here. Some teams may not be able to do what others can and there is no guarantee they will be successful. But you have to start somewhere.

Find an instructor who will work with you

If you have the ability to HOST a training class and can provide a classroom, a suitable swimming pool and/or a suitable open water site; determine what training your team needs the most. Then, find an instructor who will work with you and give you a single CLASS price to conduct the training, not an individual – per diver price, or a percentage of the net and not a commission.

That single price will have to include all of the instructor’s associated costs of travel, lodging, meals, ancillary items, student materials even the cost of a C-Card. Depending on the class and the qualified assistance you may be able to provide, the instructor will set the maximum size of his class. Class size is important and involves the agency standards he works under.

Once you find that instructor, look MONTHS down the road to where your team and the instructor can HOLD a tentative date range for the proposed class. Temporary HOLD is the key. You and the instructor will also set a date that will be the day you either mutually agree to cancel the class (might not meet the minimum enrollment/cost requirements necessary) or, you confirm and secure the required dates. This will or should require a deposit be sent to the Instructor. Remember, he is committing to your schedule. Once committed, he will block out your time on his schedule and will have out of pocket expenses before he ever arrives at your location. Some instructors may insist on payment in full just prior to the class.

When you have the cost established, sit down and calculate your team’s associated expenses, if any, which will be incurred specifically as a host. Add that to the total cost. That number divided by the number of students in the class becomes your break even number.

So let’s look at some basic math.

Let’s assume we want a 3-day specialty class in Body and Weapon Recovery and pool time and organizational help is donated. Zero team cost. The instructor will have travel expenses the day before and the day after. Call it 200 each way. For a complete training package let’s call it 3000.00. And let’s say the instructor has a maximum student limit of 20. The quick math is 200+200+3000= 3400 and 3400/20= $170.00 each

If your team has 6 members wanting to participate but no funds, then this is the math you need: 3400/(20-6) = 3400/14 = $215.00 each.

This means if you offer 14 spots to other teams at $215 each and you fill the class your 6 are zero out of pocket and your team breaks even.

But you rarely find ANY 3 day class of this nature for that price. So let’s say you are inviting other teams and have 14 seats to fill. If, as a host, you offered the class for $350 per student and you just want to be zero out of pocket for your 6 team members you need to know where your break even number is. So, 3400/350= 10 paid spots to break even.

If, as host, you are able to fill just 10 paid spots by inviting outside teams to your program ALL of your team member training is paid for and the class size is 16. However many slots are filled after 16 puts your team on the positive side of the scale. The potential is your 6 team members receive the training they needed, and your team adds $1400 to its account for future needs. When you look at the numbers, it looks like a pretty simple thing to do. It is not. It requires dedication, support and hard work to host a program. Remember the goal is to at least break even and your team members have zero out of pocket expense for their training.  If you are able to fill a class and have more interest than space, you can always offer another program.

There are 1 day and 2-day workshops and programs available through ERDI including the Public Safety Diver Survival Workshop, A Public Safety Diver Skills Refresher Workshop, Firefighter Survival, Confined Water Rescue, Still Water Rescue and more. The math works the same way.

If you consider these suggestions, keep in mind that a 3-day program requires most volunteer team members to lose at least one day of work (a Friday, Saturday, Sunday program) and possibly burdens them with covering their own travel expenses. Their out of pocket expense could be much more than the $350 you may charge. They must travel after work on Thursday, book three nights at a hotel, cover the cost of meals and ancillary expenses and be able to return home Sunday in order to go back to work on Monday.

Consider finding a hotel that will block out some rooms and will offer deep room discounts and/or additional incentives – a hotel that has a free breakfast for instance. Consider searching out a restaurant or two who might help by offering discounts in exchange for advertising mention on your flyers. Work with a local dive shop that will provide needed equipment and air fills if necessary.

Look for local business sponsorship that could provide additional funds to offset some costs in exchange for advertising. The value you offer them is going to be based on what you can do for them to get them recognition within their community.

With little or no budget you will have to be creative.

If they have and can provide advertising banners, those can be hung at a swimming pool and/or your open water site. Create class flyers and set them out in hotel lobbies, local restaurants and businesses. Design a business card/discount coupon. Your sponsors could offer a 20% or BOGO (Buy one get one free) special for the bearer of the card. Just remember to put an expiration date on it. Mail order companies like VistaPrint offer business cards at very low rates and in just about any quantity. Use your imagination.

Do not discount the value your local media can offer. Send out a series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to ALL media outlets including radio stations, print and digital. Use the PSAs to include the names of your sponsors and you have extended the value of their paid sponsorship with additional, and free to you, advertising. Be creative with your advertising campaign – use social media and internet sites to promote your program. Keep your campaign organized. Make a promotion calendar as a reminder of each PSA, flyer distribution, Social Media info release or update.

Document your steps along the way. Keep good records that include the contacts you made and notes detailing the conditions or criteria they required or agreed to. If you are able to host a future program, these notes will make it easier for the next time and give you the correct information when you thank them after the event. Do not forget the Thank You part! A framed certificate of appreciation with your team name and the event the business participated in hung on a public wall is continuous advertising for your next event.

Lastly – it is possible, even expected nowadays, that your class will NOT sell out. It is VERY important to set your own breakeven point for total team expenses. If it looks like you will not be able to reach that number by the deadline you and the instructor set, you will need to cancel the class. If that happens, learn from the experience and try again.

About the Author

 Mark Phillips is a retired 34-year career firefighter, a Master Scuba Instructor and an active member of the ERDI Training Advisory Panel. He is an independent author and has written PSD related for numerous magazines. He is the Dive Editor and contributor for Technical Rescue Magazine. Mark is the Editor and Publisher of PSDiver Magazine; a free subscription internet publication dedicated to the advancement of information and knowledge in the field of Public Safety Diving. Numerous resources for PSD teams are offered at

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