by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Dive teams operating in the modern world can only be successful if they train to be successful. A dive team is comprised of volunteers who have taken a step beyond recreational scuba. These men and women have chosen to dive in barely tolerable, low-visibility conditions in an effort to serve their communities. For some, this is an obligation, and for others, public safety diving can become a passion. To be successful, team leaders must bring every team member home from every operation. To accomplish this objective, dive teams must be prepared for the most extreme, harsh, and unfriendly environments. To achieve this level of preparation, teams must train beyond basic levels of diver knowledge.
The first step for any dive team is to both understand and practice full encapsulation; encapsulation means that all areas of the diver’s body are covered and protected from exposure to the environment. The conditions in which public safety divers work can be extreme, to improve safety divers must be encapsulated when they enter the water. The first steps toward achieving encapsulation involves training in the use of dry suits and full face masks. Together, these two items (in conjunction with dry gloves, boots, and hoods) can provide encapsulated protection. Experience with dry suits and full face masks is essential when entertaining emergency response training. International Training offers both sport training in full face masks and dry suits through SDI, and technician and operational training through ERDI. Eliminating diver contact with water and the environment can reduce the dangerous potential for a diver to come into contact with chemical, biological, or other hazardous materials.
Once a diver understands encapsulation and how his or her equipment functions and is used, team-based emergency response training must be performed. The first of these steps can be found with Emergency Response Diver 1 (ERD 1). The basic ERD 1 Course takes a diver/dive team and introduces operational settings, skills practice, team work, recovery operations, planning procedures, and protocols. This program also offers an opportune time to advance a diver from recreational training with full face masks and dry suits to operational levels while performing team-based exercises. This type of program increases safety by forcing a team to work in unison through scenario-based operational simulations. If a team is trained to work together, the overall risk held by individuals is reduced. Essentially, the team members will learn to trust one another to work toward safe success.
Third, a team must review the types of operations performed in its operational setting. Are there rivers and streams? Do major social events occur? Is a boat critical for many operational entries and exits? The answers to these questions will provide guidance as to what other forms of operational training a team may require. Moving water suggests a need for ERD Swift Water training. The need for a boat suggests the need for ERD Small Boat Operations training. The presence of major events may suggest the need for ERD Threat Assessment training. ERDI provides many sub-specializations for dive teams. In many cases, these courses may require a request from a team leader. The best way to discover how to get the training you need is to contact an area ERDI Instructor and find out how best to get the assistance you need. Any ERDI Instructor can provide a doorway to assistance, and if an instructor is not in your region, ERDI’s World Headquarters can help to provide assistance as needed.
One course that every dive team must take is ERD Contaminated Water. Certain departments of various types already undergo hazardous materials training, but teams must train to deal with decontamination and hazmat problems as they pertain to dive operations. Beyond basic encapsulation, team members must understand how to scrub, clean, and remove gear from a diver in the manner that best protects the diver’s physical well-being. Divers must trust one another to bring each other home following an operation. The actions required to achieve this objective do not end when a diver leaves the water. Public safety divers must view all dive operations as contaminated water scenarios. The water in which a diver operates may be unknown and any form of hazardous material may exist in that water. When a diver exits the water, this hazardous material may still remain on the diver’s equipment.
Once a team has trained through various operational scenarios, and prepared for the types of operations most common in the team’s operational region, the Emergency Response Diver 2 (ERD 2) program serves as a capstone course. This program is one that brings together the learned knowledge and skills of all team members to practice and train for the worst worst-case scenarios. Essentially, divers can combine skill sets and organize activities into a streamlined set of operational protocols that provide the most secure and efficient method for bringing every diver home at the end of a mission.
Finally, no team is always ready for any type of operation. Once a team has deemed itself “trained,” the training cannot stop. On a regular cycle, team members must practice skill sets and problem adaptation. If this type of continuing education is not performed, team members may get rusty and skills may be forgotten. Issues such as this are what can get a team member hurt. One weak link in the educational chain can lead to a problematic operation. To encourage regular training and operational preparedness, ERDI suggests that one in every four team members become an ERD Dive Training Supervisor. This program is tailored to help a leader develop training plans, and incorporate skills practice into a regular program.
Safety is the key to operational success for any dive team. The most efficient way to remain safe is to train for the worst possible situations. A dive team must never stop training if it wishes to remain successful, safe, and to provide the most benefit to a community. With training comes safety, success, and security.
-Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC