by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Almost every day, the news media produce images and stories about different dive teams performing active operations around the world. These operations range from simple recoveries to major rescue efforts. In every case, the viewer almost always sees some sort of joint operation in which divers work with differing public safety agencies. The mission seems to be paramount in comparison to everything else being depicted. That being said, the viewer does not see the primary objective of any dive mission, which is: to bring the divers home safely. Safety must always come first, and any person involved in the dive mission must make it home, above all other tasks and objectives.
Many factors are associated with team member safety, but the first is scene security and safety. ERDI training teaches students to review operational scenes, to look for potential threats or problems, and to plan for safe entries and exits. Prior to arriving on scene, and even following arrival, team leadership must watch for potential problems and make adjustments as needed to eliminate excessive risk. An example can be found if an entry is steep, hazardous, or unsafe. In a situation such as this, a different entry point must be chosen. A diver’s physical safety must not be endangered in an effort to make use of the closest entry point.
Second, dive teams have a bad habit of racing to scenes and each team member wants to be the individual who finds the lost item. This type of behavior is unacceptable unless the potential exists for a live victim. If a search is needed to locate items such as a body, evidentiary items, or even a vehicle, the team involved has all the time in the world when facing possible safety issues. There is no acceptable level of risk that is worth a diver’s life. The team must take time to plan the operation, implement that plan, react to possible issues, safely recover any items, and secure each diver following the operation. These steps take time, and haste can cause people to make errors. Any error could cost someone his or her life when dealing with complex equipment in zero visibility environments. Essentially, thorough planning and a slow but thoughtful pace are critical to team success.
On a dive scene, every team member is a dive safety officer. If problems are recognized or the potential for injury is discovered, the team member discovering these issues must make them known. Timidity or refraining from acknowledging risk to a supervisor could elevate the potential for harm to a teammate. For this reason, team leaders must encourage team members to speak up and to remain honest when problems are discovered. Any diver has the right to call a mission. The rules of recreational diving must spill over into public safety when safety is a concern. If the risk to human life is great, a dive must be called.
Safety must always come first in diving. Public safety diving is no different in this aspect from any other type of diving. Teams must train for the worst and hope for the best. If team members have prepared for worst case scenarios, and practiced how to cope with any foreseeable issue, risks may be reduced. The objective for any team member should be to return home with his or her fellow teammates. Public safety divers of all types must watch each other’s backs, protect one another, and stay focused on the mission at hand while remembering that the diver comes first. If this level of trust does not exist within a team, a diver could become injured and the team may not be available the next time the community has a need.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC