If you have worked around public safety diving for a long enough period, then you have probably been exposed to other teams. You may have gone to a training course or an exercise and worked with divers from other teams. You may have gone on a deployment where mutual aid was requested and multiple teams showed up to assist. In any of these circumstances, you probably saw that we don’t all do things the same way. Some of these differences may have even given you good ideas to take home to your team, while others may have had you scratching your head and saying that you will never do this yourself. Either way, it brings us to the age-old question; Is there only one way to accomplish a task?
Is there only one way?
I believe that if most of us are honest with ourselves, we would rightfully say no to that question. However, why do so many of us fall into the trap of only doing things one way? Let’s setup a real-world example. This actually happened on a call that I responded to for a recent drowning where we were inside the “Golden Hour.” I was not the first to arrive on the scene, nor would me having arrived first changed anything. However, when I arrived, I found that a team in the adjoining jurisdiction was already attempting to setup a “Jack Stay System” to search for the victim. I can understand that this can be a go to response for many teams during a recovery, but technically, we could have still had a viable victim even though statistics would typically say otherwise. In this situation, the team had a trained response to do things the same way every time.
“That’s what we always do”
During an after-action review, it was asked why the Jack Stay was set up immediately and the only answer that was given was the one we hear most often, “That’s what we always do.” Even the team commander knew that wasn’t a good answer. But it came down to training in this situation. At the time, the team was not training with any others. They were also doing their best to get as many volunteer team members as possible to a single training, once per quarter. So, the opportunity for these team members to be exposed to other types of techniques was very limited. Obviously, this isn’t the only reason that teams get entrenched into doing things one way. How does the old saying go? “Eventually things change, one retirement at a time.” Eventually we just get so used to doing things one way, that we stop trying to change something if it works for us. The other saying for this is, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” This can be true, but I don’t believe that we should stop looking for new ways to improve our craft.
Fixing the one-way approach
So, how do we change this idea that my way is better than your way within public safety diving? First, we need some self-introspection. Most of us are type A personalities and tend to want people to listen to us rather than us to listen to them. If we can be aware of this, we can already change the part where we need to shut up and listen. If we are traveling to another location or we have the opportunity to have an outside person around, use it as an opportunity to observe how others are doing things. My team saved an enormous amount of money by getting the opportunity to see another team in our state use vehicle recovery systems, even for close to shore recoveries. Until then, we were constantly having to call for the large boom recovery tow trucks, since the winches on the roll backs frequently wouldn’t overcome the suction the vehicle would have in the soft mud bottoms most waterways had in my area. This seems pretty much like a “how did you not know” situation, but it is a real-world example of how simple things can change and be adopted by working with an outside group.
After Action Review
Another way to change your mindset is to start using after-action reviews if you are not already doing so. Let every person on the team participate in it. You never know where a good idea will come from. An after-action review is meant to help us get out of the mindset of “this is how we always do it.” Try to avoid saying things such as, “There’s really nothing we could have improved on.” Even the most knit-picky idea tells you something. Normally, knit picky ideas tell you that you are doing things well since you can’t find something major to focus on.
Work with outside groups as well. We need to get the idea that we are our own islands out of our heads. This idea that we can go at everything alone has long been a part of public safety. I have personally seen it way too much. Anyone with any amount of sense knows that you can exhaust a team of divers rather quickly due to depth, temperature, and exertion. We must be willing to work together. Through working together, we will be exposed to more techniques and methods of doing similar tasks.
Seek more training
One of the core issues that is found to be a major cause of dive accidents within the public safety world is lack of sufficient training. Not all training has to be formal coursework. Bring in outside groups and train with them. There are several search techniques that I learned outside of a formal dive course. Most of my salvage techniques were learned through working with other teams rather than my lifting techniques course. So, this means that training doesn’t have to be expensive nor hard to coordinate. The big thing is to make sure you are open to learning while you are working with others.
If there is anything I want you to take away from this article, it is to stop believing you have every answer to every problem, and begin reaching out as public safety teams to help one another progress to higher levels. We don’t always have the best answer to every problem. Take what you can from every situation and improve the situations when you see it is needed and helpful. Stay safe out there!
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