ERDI called Grady Weston to ask him what it’s like to be a Public Safety Diver. Below is the transcript from that call.
ERDI – Hello Grady, thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Before we get into Public Safety Diving (PSD), can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Grady – I was born and raised in Joplin, Missouri which is where I currently live. I own an electrical contracting company and a dive shop; Extreme Sports in Joplin. I am also an assistant Chief with the County dive team… By the way, I may have to cut this interview short, we are waiting on a call right now; it is in another county, we trained the emergency dive team and they just got a call about a 5 year old in a creek. We are currently standing by…
ERDI – Wow! OK. We’ll try to keep this short… What is your background in diving?
Grady – I have been a certified diver for 24 years. I originally started with another training organization but when I had trouble finding a local dive shop that offers scuba training in the area, my son and I became instructors and opened up our own dive center. We started working with TDI in 2001 and got into the public safety side with ERDI soon after. It was the best program at the time and it has evolved into an even better program today. My wife is also a SDI diver and my other son is a SDI Divemaster.
ERDI – How often do you dive?
Grady – I conduct about 200 dives per year. A quarter of those dives are “fun” or sport dives whereas the rest are training dives, instructional dives or completing missions. It’s rare for my dive team and I to go a month without diving.
ERDI – How long have you been public safety diving?
Grady – Well it all started as a combination of being a volunteer fireman and a diver a long time ago… They put the two together and put me to work. I wanted to get formal training but unfortunately it simply was not available at the time. The only thing that existed was recreational programs like the Rescue Diver course and that isn’t exactly what Public Safety Diving is about… We were thrilled of the development of ERDI in 2000 since they met NFPA guidelines and OSHA requirements.
ERDI – What triggered your interest in public safety diving?
Grady – The idea of combining my two passions in life; being a fire fighter and diving. It seemed like a perfect fit and it just made sense to me.
ERDI – What areas of public safety diving are you involved in?
Grady – Well I deal primarily with fast moving /murky water in rivers and creeks. There is a lot of farming in the area so when it rains the runoff causes the water visibility to go to zero. Our biggest challenge yet was dealing with the aftermath of a tornado that took out a third of Joplin, which has 27 bodies of water within the city limits alone. The 2011 Joplin tornado was a catastrophic EF5 multiple-vortex tornado killed 158 people and injured some 1,150 others and caused damages in upwards of $2.8 billion. It was the deadliest tornado in the US since 1947.
ERDI – Wow, what an experience. Can you tell me a bit about what does it take to become a Public Safety Diver for your team?
Grady – We like candidates to have their SDI Advanced Diver, Solo Diver, CPR, Limited Visibility Diver, Underwater Navigation Diver, and Deep Diver certifications; as well as a minimum of 100 dives. This type of diving requires a strong state of mind and sense of self. We look for candidates that can handle the weight of equipment in harsh conditions. We also ease new Public Safety Divers into the local diving environments they will be working in so they gain familiarity and awareness in specific settings.
ERDI – As PSD diver, what kind of equipment do you have and how does it differ from recreational diving equipment?
Grady – People are usually surprised to hear I go Sport diving in Cozumel in the same equipment I wear while working. I rescue and recover people on a regular basis in sport diving equipment. There are a few exceptions like dry suits, pony bottles, and full face masks. Since we are a volunteer service team we use our own diving equipment. I’ve been in positions where I had to use my teammates diving equipment last minute and we all have similar gear configurations which makes transitions easy for the entire team.
ERDI – What was the most challenging part of public safety diving?
Grady – The most difficult part about this job is going to court. It’s likely after a 20 minute dive; we will spend 20 hours in court.
ERDI – What was the most rewarding part of your PSD training?
Grady – Gaining the knowledge and skills to save lives. A lot of Public Safety Diver training is the body recovery aspect that can be a difficult area of this field. However, having the ability to bring closure to families is rewarding in a different way.
ERDI – How does your preparation for a PSD dive differ from a recreational dive?
Grady – A sport dive allows the diver the flexibility and time to plan and prep for the dive in whatever environment they are entering… A Public Safety Dive is vastly different. A call comes in and our equipment is already set up / ready to dive. We need to know exact details of what is going on, what we need to be prepared for, what conditions we will be diving in and if they are changing due to weather. We have to know if we need a boat and how deep we are going with very little time to arrange logistics. A public safety dive arises out of a command that requires quick reactions. We already have the mental preparation to conduct this type of dive; we also have to match our physical preparation for the challenging conditions by remaining physically fit and up to speed with our diving skills.
ERDI – What value do you place on good Public Safety Divers?
Grady – Being a good Public Safety Diver can mean the difference between life and death. It’s a lot of work and commitment to stay ahead in this field of diving. The efforts and experience of a PSD can make all the difference in the world. It has taken my dive team 6 years to be the first call-out to be dispatched and we’re pretty proud to be in this position.