Training is the task that never ends. No matter how many times you have taken on a task with success, preparation for the worst demands that you keep working to master that task. In public safety diving, divers use skills that can and do degrade over time. The dangers associated with public safety diving only make continual training more essential.
Historically, public safety divers were not trained by agencies. Teams were formed because needs developed within differing jurisdictions. Fire departments, law enforcement groups, rescue teams, and even EMS groups decided that dive capabilities were needed. Often, this need caused public safety organizations to allow recreational scuba divers within departments to take on departmental diving operations. The original divers figured out problems and developed protocols for those teams over the years. Eventually, the old hats began training the new divers once they were certified recreational divers. Eventually, liability and experience showed that teams needed to begin standardizing training methods. Agencies such as Emergency Response Diving International were created to help establish safe methods of training public safety divers.
As instructors were established for the realm of public safety diving, many were pulled from the active field of public safety divers. These men and women were experienced and could develop some of the best programs. Over time, courses were developed that would allow dive teams to respond to calls in an effective and responsible fashion. One problem that remained was the idea that “I have done this and do not need to learn more.” No matter how long we have trained and performed tasks, it is always worth a little time to watch and listen to the ideas of others. If nothing else, education such as this lets us learn new concepts or even see what will not work in certain field scenarios. Many team leaders out there have “been there and done that”. Similarly, the public safety dive community is one of tight jurisdictions, sensitive funding, and pride. These factors make leaders very defensive and protective of their teams and what they can do. Despite this, good training and innovative ideas are often what helps a team grow and garner an improved reputation based on successful operations. Essentially, the old idea that a team does not need to change what it does or learn something new must be overcome. Team success and safety is paramount to pride in all situations. The first method that must be used to overcome this old mindset is to lead from the front and drive a team into further training and improved capabilities.
Team leaders often ask much of team members. Time, training, fitness, risk, and danger are all part of dive team operations. But what happens when the old hats take over? Does this mean that once you become the boss the busy work goes away? Is fitness less important? Is ability during operations less essential? A clear mind is important for any leader but so is a strong understanding of operational activities. What happens if a team learns a new skill set and implements that skill set in the field? Does a leader really understand what the team can do if he or she has not actively performed the same skills during training? The answer is no.
A leader must operate at the front of a team. He or she is the calm voice, the plan of action, the guide, and the field commander. That person must know what the team can do and how to do these things. The truth is that a leader can never just become the boss on the bank by the water. A true team leader must trust team members and train subordinates to take over. During training evolutions, a smart leader will become subordinate on occasion and let junior members take over. This creates a situation in which any member can perform any task required by a team. No matter what happens, the team will be able to operate and anyone can lead.
Too often in public safety diving does a team leader take over and he takes a seated leadership position. Being the boss does not mean it is time to stop worrying about fitness and ability. A true leader must be an example to junior team members. Skill sets do degrade over time in regard to diving. To remain competent, a diver must strap on gear and get wet. As new gear arrives, it must be tested and evaluated to make sure that it is effective and can be properly used during operations. If a leader stands next to the pool he will never know first-hand the true level of team capabilities. The person in charge must be able to show new divers why actions are important and perform those tasks on the level of an educator. A team leader may not be a dive professional, but in the realm of public safety diving he must operate as a professional diver.
Be a Leader
The future of any dive team lies in the competent and quality leadership of the team leader. The boss is the person who makes sure members have the gear needed to remain safe and be successful. The boss also makes sure the team is active and training on a proper level. The face of the team is seen in the leader. If you’re a diver who runs a team, take time and find a professional instructor who can help you grow and develop. Look at possibilities such as confined space training, swift water operations training, contaminated water training, or even basic full face mask or dry suit operations training. Work to become an example of strength and success while you work to help each team member develop. If you are a dive instructor who leads a team, expand you skills or bring in others who can help provide innovation. We all need to work together to accomplish a mission where glory is a misplaced desire. As a group, we can improve public safety diving and hopefully make operational diving safer for the men and women who get called out when it is cold and dark. Lead from the front and always work to become better.
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC