Public Safety Diving Long Term Planning

By: Alan Cale & Thomas Powell

In the early days of COVID-19, we, like many others, wanted to connect to our audience in a new way. They, like us, had more time on their hands. So we started organizing Facebook Live discussions and even some training sessions. We have captured so much incredible advice and wisdom over the last 18 months, that we want to start sharing some of it here on our blog.

This article is a transcription of a Facebook Live discussion between Alan Cale and Thomas Powell about: Long Term Planning, Gear and Training within the public safety world. The full discussion was 90 minutes long and we have linked it below, embedded it right into this page. However, for length purposes, we are going to break this discussion up into 3 parts.

This first part is about long-term planning in the public safety world. How teams can work together, leverage downtime, and get their members on the same page. We have also clipped the Live video below to only include this part of Alan and Thomas’ discussion if you’d like to watch.

What would you say that you have done, starting with quarantine procedures? What have you done to keep training? So I think one of the biggest things we have to recognize right now is that a lot of locations — a lot of cities, counties, municipalities, even the college systems — they’re all shut down, and even if we’re reopening, or your territory is starting to open its doors and let things happen again, things are being rescheduled, people are trying to dig through schedules, et cetera. And still, one of the biggest things that I’ve been watching lately is going way outside the box. So I’ll toot his horn a little bit. Another IT for International Training, Darrell Adams, and then another one, Sean Haines, they’ve both been sending out things like knot tying apps to public safety divers and passing along information that they’ve learned in things like the fire service that apply back to public safety.

So even if they’re sitting at home, they can communicate with their divers who are also at home, but they can walk through, “Hey, here’s what this knot is used for, tie it for me.” “Let me watch you do it on video,” et cetera, and then move on to the next one.  The other thing is, just Con-Ed in general. You’ve seen tons of people offering things like what we’re doing right now, but it’ll be an awareness level course learning how to be a Tender, learning how to communicate better, et cetera.

But what we’re seeing is people jumping on board with something, because the ability to go out and work as a team may not be available right now unless it’s a real call, but to stay on top of things, it’s really the, “what can we do? What’s within our current regulations, depending on where we are,” and then, “what’s out there and available?”  And so I’ve seen quite a bit come out here recently, but again, it just depends on where people are located.

Yeah. I think it’s awesome that you mentioned sending the knot tying apps and having someone show you how to tie them. We’re taking advantage of technology to get together, even though you’re in North Carolina and I’m in Florida, we are taking advantage of it.  It almost takes me right back to when I was a volunteer with the Sheriff’s Department and the fact that I learned from an experienced member of the team — this individual had a lot of experience, had been on the job for years — I was essentially shadowing them, learning everything.  The fact is we are now almost going back to that — sending these apps, showing how to tie knots — where you are not able to get together, but you are still able to pass along that knowledge.

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I think one of the biggest things people have to remember is, I mean, that’s where public safety came from.

It comes from the guy who sort of knew what he was doing and could help with an investigation or a rescue or recovery or something, and so, he took this little bit of skill set he might’ve had in the recreational or military world, and then pushed it over into let’s just say, the fire service or law enforcement, to help out one day. And then all of a sudden that’s a resource. Well then after a short while the next kid comes along and he gets taught and it becomes this growing process. And over the years, we’ve sort of gotten away from that in many different ways. But what’s cool is if you’ve been watching social media — if you’ve been watching all the shares and whatnot — people all over the country are sharing, “Hey, here’s what I’m doing today.”

There are several public safety groups out there that I’m a member of where people are just asking for advice. “What can we talk about for our meeting, or our zoom meeting, or our Google Hangouts?” Whatever platform they’re using, people are seeking that information, and there’s no shortage of instructors and other dive team members putting that information out there and saying, “Hey, check this out.” “Have you ever trained on this?” “Have you checked out this app?” Whatever it may be, that information sharing is just skyrocketing, and I hope that as soon as we get out of quarantine, that doesn’t stop. 

So one of the big things that you and I talked about yesterday that a lot of people need to use during their downtime, and I say this for anybody, is this is kind of like the dead of winter. Some teams love to get out and train in the cold. The vast majority of teams avoid the cold and freezing water as much as possible. 

Now is the time to start looking for that winter time.

What I mean is, how many times have teams taken a day with the truck, cleaning it out? And I mean everything from sweeping it to restoring and repacking, to pulling team SOP SRGs and sitting down either as a leadership group or as an entire team to look at what’s on paper, what you’ve all agreed to, and how realistic it is moving forward. Is this a document that was created for a team 10 years ago or 20 years ago? Does this apply to what we do today? I think many teams fall back on it and say, “well, it’s done. The board approved it, whatever.” But if they went back and read through it, they would realize we aren’t what we were. We’re either a different type of response unit now, or we’ve lost some ability, or we’ve gained some ability that needs to be documented and something needs to be put down just to establish a protocol for how you handle yourself.

That is the perfect thing to do. Even like we’re doing now, where you get remote and you come up with your ideas, and then you conference in, and walk through it, and come up with a good thing to take back to the powers that be that might better serve you.

Look into how your team changed since you signed that document.

Was it five years ago when we were doing a lot of one type of call, but now we’re doing more of another type of call? Are you a general-purpose team where you can respond to all types of calls, or are you the general-purpose team that says you can respond to all calls? When’s the last time you’ve done a swift water rescue, or even swift water training? So, I mean, if we have to look at public safety diving as training and regimented planning, and things come out of liability and a litigious society, we also need to look at the fact that everything is finite and what we call ourselves might be critical. So how many times do you see a team out there that is rescue and recovery or diving in swift water or whatever, and then you have to look at it and say, “okay, well are we swift water trained?” And you might have a couple of guys still, or the team might be trained. Does it meet your state’s requirements? If they were to fall under that category and that material hasn’t been updated and nobody’s been involved in any of that Con-Ed training, that needs to be put into play as a follow-up. Then, at the same time, when you’re looking at those documents, do we need to take a step back and say, “well, we’re no longer a team that does this over here.”

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t get there, and then bigger than that, it doesn’t mean you don’t go to the kids across town and say, “Hey, this is no longer in our purview, but how can we work out a deal where we now establish some form of mutual aid working within our limits and our community?” Cause that’s the bigger goal. And what I’ve discovered, like everybody else that teaches in this community when I first started: I was the greedy little kid.

Like everybody else, I did not want to share. I wanted to keep all of my resources and make all the money, and I realized quickly that you don’t. I talked about this with other instructors and this showed me that the more we worked together, and the more we shared the overall pie, we got a little bit of everything.

Then you start to realize when you see calls taking place that involve these teams: they’re talking, they’re reaching out to each other. They’re saying, “Hey, you have this piece of equipment that I need over here.” There’s no question anymore. They’ve trained together. They’ve worked together. They’re now getting ready to respond to a scene together. Literally, last night after you and I talked yesterday, we had a local department here that took a call for a missing child, and we had another team that had just been watching it take place and already had divers moving to the vehicles and everything else, getting ready to respond if they were asked to come and help.

It just shows you that all of a sudden, rather than becoming a contest or a fight, the effort’s to now come together and figure out how to help each other with resources and capabilities. This magically opened a doorway where you have this cushion of support it’s readily available and you’re not asking them to, they’re just, that’s how they now behave. I think that’s one of the biggest factors that teams, educators, and leadership more than anything need to recognize: that you don’t carry that whole backpack yourself. You divvy up the product and everybody carries it together, and that may include other departments.

Everyone wants to be the diver because the diver is pictured as the guy that is the quote-unquote hero. But really on our team, we called them the “dope on the rope.” He was the guy that just happened to be at the end of the rope. It’s a team effort. I think I see this a lot, where no one wants to give up control.

I do see it a lot where we are talking about mutual aid and no one wants to give up control.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat just waiting on a scene while we were figuring out who was going to be in charge, because everyone wants to be in charge. Everyone wants to do it, but it would have been so much more efficient — we would’ve gotten the job done faster — whatever it may be to have just had those existing relationships built and work together on it. Maybe one team’s good at this. The other team’s good at this. Having police and fire on the scene, having the paramedic, everyone’s good at something.

I think one of the biggest things, there, is exactly what you’re talking about. It is not just dive team A and dive team B. It expands into public safety in general. So, for instance, if I have an in-service training day, I don’t care what kind of department you are in. Why would you not call an ambulance out to your training site? Plan, make sure EMS can handle that kind of thing, but let’s look at the reality of that. EMS gets time and numbers for that vehicle being out and doing something. You now have paramedics who respond to scenes in that area on-site, working with divers, watching what they do, able to do pre and post-checks. If they’ve never done dive-related stuff, it’s their time to figure it out, as well as form their questions to follow up with other medical professionals, so that they’re better prepared for real scenes.

Take it a step further if we’re always going to assume that we’re diving in contaminated water unless we know otherwise. Why not call out brush trucks, different fire departments in your territory? See if they’ll send a couple of guys out that will help every diver get decon when they come out. Walkthroughdoes not just dive it. Find out what resources they’re going to have available at their department, versus what you might keep on your dive truck or trailer, and then come up with a process of using the resources that are local so that it’s quicker. It’s easier and it’s practiced and we’re not figuring it out on scene somewhere on the worst of days. Even law enforcement: seeing if different departments might send somebody out to secure a scene for you or walk you through their methodology for how they typically do it. And you’re not trying to tell them what to do as a dive team guy.

Let’s say they’re a Sheriff’s deputy and the Sheriff’s response is here. If the department’s going to help with scene security, well, the divers are not pulling scene security that day. They are dive team guys. But it lets them now get other department people to come out and do the job that they need to do, while this diver who’s training can get in the water or be a tender or whatever it needs to be. But then it’s so much easier when the next day comes and a real call comes out and things are faster. Things are well-oiled and like everything else, we’re still going to have problems, but it’s that little basic stuff that you just push out of the way because now you’ve got a big support structure full of local people. What I’ve discovered more than anything else is all of a sudden you have a bunch of new first responders who want to learn about scuba diving.

The cool thing is, that can even start with ERDI. It can start with the awareness level stuff. Another thing we’ve talked about is everything from dispatchers and 9-1-1, all the way over into paramedics, learning how to be a Tender in a worst-case scenario to sitting through the classroom academics or the online coursework or whatever.

So that dispatcher understands the communications better or understands, “Hey, it’s a dive call.” I’m gonna go out and call the fire departments and send a brush truck out. Things like that. So that you’re not having to nitpick as a dive team, command structure; all of these people are well-oiled and understand how to best help, which is the goal.

One of the biggest things that I think people, really, really need to understand is education never ends. The bigger reality is just because we learned something today, doesn’t mean we can’t learn the same thing a different way tomorrow. Or better than that, you can’t take everything to the next step and keep pushing and driving forward. One of the biggest problems that I see out there today is exactly what you’re talking about. And honestly, it’s a military concept. It’s that whole, “I’m going to send this guy off to a school and then he’s going to come back and he’s gonna train his squad or train his company or whatever.” The reality is that works great on the front end. That’s a great starting point, but it’s got to keep going because every time we share knowledge and it rolls downhill, something is going to be lost in transition. One of the greatest things that I’ve experienced is team teaching. It’s when I put five ERDI instructors in one room with a dive team and they’re all helping out. You’ll hit different topics, especially during academics where you’ve got nine different approaches to getting taught one thing. But the cool thing is it allows teams to hear ideas, hear a sensible commentary based on experience, and then pick and choose what works for them and try stuff out when they train or when they do things.

It goes even a step further. All of a sudden you have students in the classroom who hear two or three ideas and they’re like, “wait, wait, wait… what if we do this?” And they propose something nobody’s ever thought of, combining ideas. And it’s the greatest idea you’ve ever heard. All of a sudden you realize, “man, I’m learning from my student today.” Everyone in the room just learned from a student and that’s the critical factor. You have a lot of people who hit these hard stop points and they don’t want to continue with education and training. And then what that eventually leads to is a dive team with one guy who is 55… 60 years old, and he is “the dive team.” And you’ve got a whole bunch of people in t-shirts that hang out with him that are supposed to be on the dive team because there was a hard stop point and now it’s the old guy who bears the load. It shouldn’t be that way. Like, look at the modern world, where people have a bad habit of assigning Tenders as non-divers. If we look at the training material, the reality is, the Tenders should be far more experienced than the diver. The Tenders should know how to do the job and then control the job from the surface. That gets lost in translation quite often. 

I know you’ve heard this: Being a Public Safety Diver means that you are an anchor that crawls across the bottom.  Let’s be honest, the first thing we are before we become public safety divers is scuba divers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched guys who are used to wearing SCBAs, and now they go full face and scuba diving and you make them go back to a half mask, and they panic. So many little things: neutral buoyancy, I mean, yeah you might have to get on the bottom and root around in some nastiness, but why would you not search the top layer first? Visually, if you can. And if you muck it up, you lose that opportunity. So yes sometimes you’re down there rooting around in the mud. Sometimes the water sucks so bad, you just can’t see. If you’re a diver first and you’re practicing those skills during downtime, hitting the pool, doing basic open water skills, then you will be better prepared to deal with problems. You’ll understand the gear more efficiently. And sometimes just diving doesn’t work. You just need to dive and have a good time.

I mentioned dive tables was my shortcoming. When I went to become a Divemaster, I’d forgotten how to do it. Well, think about all the skills at the basic level that you learned in your Open Water course. If you’re not practicing those, can you proficiently perform those skills when they become necessary?

Right? Like, I mean everything under the sun, when you take that and expand it to a public safety level. So, I mean, how often do your dive team members get in the water with whatever your redundant gas sources are and you drill: switching to it, bailing out, getting out of that full face, using your switch block, et cetera, et cetera, because you do not want the first time to be when everything goes south on you.

And it eats me up on the recreational side and the public safety side when I see people happily carrying gear that’s considered safe, but have never actually gone and practiced using it. They’ve never implemented the product. And when all that stress comes out and it’s the worst thing that they’ve ever experienced, they forget it’s there or they forget how to use it. I think that is important to keep in mind. 

We’ve all got these egos that come with the territory, where we want to be better than the other guy, but it should never be a malicious ego.

It should be: you take pride in it, but know that there’s always going to be someone out there that’s better than you. Always. I respect you a lot for your knowledge base and Darrell, you’ve mentioned Darrell so many times. I look to Darrell for a lot of questions on ERDI, often because of how often he is going and teaching these courses. But I do not doubt that there’s someone out there better than the both of you, and I don’t mean that disrespectfully. It’s just a fact that there are people, and it can even be they’re better at this aspect of public safety diving, but maybe not this aspect, but there’s always someone out there better than you. I think that’s the best point too. Like we are all the stupid student in some category, and it’s the best thing in the world to be a stupid student. I love being that guy and getting to go learn something that I didn’t know before and screw up. As you said, the screw-up is the best moment. You never forget it. You laugh about it. It’s a joke forever. But your whole dive universe will change the moment you screw something up.  Just to throw Darrell mightily under the bus: Darrell has been a team captain since 1991. Just to age them out there a little bit. I was three years old. Yeah.

Running a team and taking calls is impressive, and that’s the example. That’s one person in countless men. Yesterday we were talking about different individuals from all over the planet that had these experience levels and it’s not just public safety. It could be taking all these tech skills or these open water skills or whatever category you want to talk about. And these guys have real-life rescues or recoveries, or even, case solving evidentiary recoveries that are mind-blowing dives. When you see what they put together on the fly, they accomplished it safely, and some of these guys have even created manuals out of it. They’ve documented exactly how they were saved. I mean, it’s mind-blowing, and that’s just a good example of how much info is out there and how it never really ends.

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