Recently, I was reading an article that discussed how people often find hobbies that allow them to “tinker.” Essentially, certain hobbies allow a person to build, perform maintenance, and improve things as part of the associated enjoyment. Some examples of these types of hobbies include woodworking, motorcycle maintenance, and metalworking. In each of these activities, people work to refine the things they enjoy. In some cases, the individual performs regular maintenance, while in other cases they learn to make better use of tools or products. The problem with everyday life is that this level of attention rarely crosses over into what we view as our “normal” lives.
In contrast to our personal lives, imagine you are a professional chef at a 5-star restaurant. Your reputation depends on presentation, flavor, and even documented reviews. These factors mean that you keep your knives sharp and your culinary team in order. Why do we not behave the same as public safety divers? How often have you seen a public safety department spend large sums of money on a new vehicle while neglecting basic life support gear? We rarely want to admit this on an administrative level, but divers who make up public safety dive teams will gripe about this situation all over the world.
So, what makes up “maintenance” when we begin to think about public safety dive gear? Let us just begin with regulator systems. Manufacturers often state that a regulator needs to be serviced within a certain span of time or within a certain number of dives. This standard takes into consideration the habits of a standard recreational scuba diver. Public safety divers do not often dive in clean or clear water. Instead, public safety divers often faceless than perfect dive conditions. Does this mean that the same maintenance procedures should apply? The honest answer is no. Regulators should be on an annual maintenance plan to ensure functionality and reliability. Inside regulator systems, you will find pressure seats, O-rings, and other small working parts that can degrade with time and use. A public safety dive environment is not the place to discover that you have not stayed on top of a good maintenance schedule.
Next, let us look at buoyancy systems.
How many of you return home from every dive and flush out your wing or BC? Some people do, some people do not. Whether you dive in salt or freshwater, fluid will find its way inside your system. When you add turbid conditions and particulate matter in that water column, this means that debris is also finding its way into places you cannot see. On top of these basics, public safety personnel need to remember that contaminates of all types, depending on conditions, will be right in there with any particulates or fluids. The purpose of annual maintenance is to ensure that your systems are effectively cleaned and tested to once again ensure reliability and functionality.
Third, we will discuss your other standard items.
This could include exposure protection, full-face systems, electronic communications, and even tools. If something is damaged, it needs to be fixed. The purpose of using these items is to improve overall operational safety. If an item is broken, it is either not usable, or a detriment to safety as soon as it is put into use. This is why service technicians, manufacturers, and dive shops take the time to offer corrective services. If we do not use effective gear, we are only increasing our overall risk.
Why does maintenance ever become a problem?
First, it costs money. People often dislike spending money on something twice. The problem is that we buy gear for public safety diving with the intent of taking that gear into problematic conditions to perform work activities. Damage is to be expected. Part of taking on the responsibility of serving your community as a diver is recognizing that sometimes things will inevitably have to be fixed or replaced. The second issue is that someone else owns the equipment. It is not your job as a diver to fix the gear, so you assume someone will get to it who holds that responsibility. Even on the highest level, this is a factor that can occur. After all, if a dive team is housed by a fire department, then the chief may feel that fire-related expenses come first. Is that fair to the diver entering the water in the worst possible conditions?
Finally, how do you fix your problem?
The first step is regular in-house maintenance. How many times have you completed a training day only to realize one person is left holding a brush and everyone else headed home? Part of keeping yourself safe is taking the time to scrub your gear, perform finite cleaning, and making sure your kit is ready for the next working day. If your child was going to be the next diver using that gear, would you leave it dirty and thrown in a pile? My suggestion is that every team member is tasked with certain maintenance responsibilities as part of the membership. Similarly, a planned schedule be developed where certain items come out of service for maintenance needs on a rotation. This action will keep a team ready to work, while also spreading costs across a budgetary year where possible.
In the end, we all know the realities of proper service and making sure our gear is functional when it is needed. We almost never adhere to any real standard, but we need to fix this. Find a way to improve what your team is already doing, and you may discover that things do not break as often as they have in the past. Simultaneously, when everything goes wrong, you will have done the best you can to make sure the gear does not fail you or your teammates.
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