Jump On Board Or Not: Latest Trends In The World Of Public Safety Divers

By: Thomas Powell

In recent months, public safety diving has made major headlines all over the planet. We have seen diver fatalities, trapped children, desperate rescue attempts, fearful moments, internet brilliance and moments of pure joy. Simultaneously, we have seen “public safety” divers of different types performing different actions for the benefit of others far from home. Just like pop culture, public safety diving has its own trends, both good and bad.

“I am the best and you are not”

First off, let us state that there is no one person, team or group being “the bad guy” in the public safety world. Instead, we have a change of culture. Try to remember that public safety diving has its origins in divers who were public safety workers who had a skill set that solved problems. With time and litigation came organized training programs. With differing programs and business activities, there always exists conflict. Conflict often creates advocates and dissenters, deserved or not.

In 2018, we have seen all types of events that involve dive operations and public safety activity. The frequency of publicized events has increased the public’s attention to public safety diving. With each event comes social media discussion, message board posts, comments, and arguments. Everyone always seems to know just how to solve a problem and lead the way to victory.

Oddly, no one ever seems to agree that one way is the best way. In truth, there rarely is one good way to solve every problem. Divers come from different backgrounds, different programs, and even different generations. To make a comparison, a teenager today may prefer video games that did not even exist when his father or grandfather was a child. The elder family member cannot understand the love of gaming, while the younger family member does not understand the love of going outside.

The reality of any situation is that men and women on the ground have to make decisions and do the best they can as safely as possible. We can all claim we would have done better after an event ends. However, we need to trust that divers are educated and prepared in a way that encourages good decision making when the spotlight is shining on them.

Simultaneously, we need to remember that always being on the attack not only hurts individuals and creates fruitless arguments, but it can hurt an entire wing of the dive community. Training and support are what divers need, not insults and debates over who is better in the water.

On countless boards, you can find negativity regarding public safety divers. Everyone always seems to be the best when they are “keyboard diving.” However, in July of 2018, NFPA 1006 underwent a revision. This allowed for standards changes to the baselines surrounding technical rescue in the fire service. Only one professional diver other than the review panel members logged in to add any suggested changes for review.

Everyone can type in all caps, but no one stepped in to ask for a change? Just remember that next time you read about something and the keyboard looks like it needs to be attacked.


A new topic that is surfacing in recent months is basic survival and watermanship. For many years, dive teams have focused on core courses associated with recovery operations. Despite this, many of the team-based incidents we see revolve around basic skill sets or equipment use.

A series of new courses have been produced that focus on returning to a diver’s roots and getting out of problematic situations. These courses do incorporate redundant public safety gear, but then again public safety divers should be using these items during real calls right?

All over the country, teams and team members are taking “survival” type classes to make sure team members can properly use gear, bail out if needed and get to safety if there is a need. The goal is to make it home, not to create secondary victims. Basic public safety diver survival training is something that can help any team member improve his or her value during operational activities.

Price Wars

As always, teams these days have to do a big job with a little budget. No matter who you dive for, there is always a need for something you do not have. This leads to price comparisons, dive retailers giving up on putting in bids and an all-around bad taste for both teams and retailers.

In 2018, some bad relationships have developed, but some good ones have popped up as well. In regard to the retailer, remember that the regular purchases keep the lights on. Going the extra mile and working deals with manufacturers makes sure the right people have the gear they need on those awful nights when bad things happen. It also means those people know they can trust you because you work hard for them…just like they do for you.

In regard to the team, remember that free equals a failed business. What happens when a business makes $500 off of a $20,000 order and it fronts the money for multiple billing cycles? The answer is, it cannot operate properly and the gear resource will vanish. Both sides have to give and take. The goal is to develop trust and eventually long-term business.

Positive Growth

The one big thing that has happened this year is tremendous for public safety diving. Teams with successful operations are being seen in the media. Social media groups are promoting success and making sure the efforts of hard-working public servants are being seen. This came to a climax with the recent incident in Thailand involving trapped children.

Now, before anyone argues, I am well aware that the events in Thailand were not handled by organized public safety teams. That being said, why were they not a team? That event showed us that the definition of public safety diving may have changed a little bit.

Essentially, a group of highly trained experts from various fields came together to achieve a goal for the betterment of others. They developed plans, made decisions and accomplished their mission on multiple fronts.

Yes, there were negatives (mentioned above) surrounding this one event, but who cares? Lessons were learned, the problem was fixed and others will have a strong example to follow in the future. That seems very close to the origins of modern public safety diving.

The events in Thailand showed us that people were not screaming agency names, equipment brands of any of the other common discussion points. Instead, methods, skills, questions and comparisons were brought up. Divers from differing backgrounds both here and there were discussing what they knew and then listening to others about how to help people in those types of circumstances.

Since the conclusion of that rescue operation, I have even had multiple team leaders asking about how to train for trapped personnel in dive scenarios. A bad event had a good ending and it has spurred requests for good training.

To cap things off, mutual aid is growing. We have seen cities, towns, local government, federal government and even multiple nations come together to help one another. We have seen civilians, soldiers, sailors, law enforcement, firefighters and medical personnel stand together for others in a way that is promising.

Yes, some bad things in 2018, but you always get the bad with the good. Hopefully, public safety divers as a local and an international group will continue to grow, learn and improve as the year continues. So far, it’s been both a good and bad year. We have seen divers lost, but we have seen people saved. Let us hope for good things moving forward.

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