Becoming-a-Better-Public-Safety-Instructor

Journey to Becoming a Better Public Safety Instructor

By: Tony Pietrantonio

It is no secret that diving is a passion enjoyed by so many. They seek instructors who can coach, teach and mentor them to develop their passion. This is true in all disciplines of diving which includes what I consider to be one of the toughest diving disciplines; public safety diving.

Unlike other types of diving, public safety divers do not get a choice on when or where they dive. They respond when called, just as police and firefighters do. I am one of these divers. I also have a passion for teaching public safety diving. 

How do I stay at the top of my game, so students benefit?

There are many lessons I have learned over my lifetime. Many during my 22-year military career. They are what drives me to stay in practice. During this time, training and being a subject matter expert were expected and more than desired.

I discovered you should always seek ways to improve, learn from others and take courses whenever possible. These courses took me all over. I wanted to continue this habit. I now take courses annually. These help me become a better public safety diver, firefighter and instructor.

In 2018, I attended commercial diving school. This was so I could better understand surface-supplied diving. After this, I wanted to know what it was like using surface-supplied air for public safety diving.

My public safety diving had always been on scuba. I found doing so in zero visibility is task loading. You worry about air consumption, bottom time, depth, searching, avoiding entanglements and line management. I wondered whether surface-supplied air could reduce these concerns and improve focus. This led to my search for active surface-supplied diving teams.

The RCMP

My search led me to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Dive Team. People frequently call the team “the most active on this side of the planet.” Friends provided me with an introduction to their national training coordinator.

After a few emails, question-and-answer sessions and vetting, I passed the test. The team invited me to Nanaimo. Here I would sit in on their next surface-supplied diving course, taking place in June. I arrived not knowing what to expect, but with all confidence that I was about to learn a lot. So, I checked into my hotel and prepared for starting the course in 36 hours.

Monday morning arrived, and I did what I had done for years, I began with a workout and cleaned up, finally leaving for the RCMP National Underwater Recovery Training Center. The instructor staff welcomed me immediately and engaged in several great conversations.

These guys were the real deal. Although full-time instructors, they remain operational, flying in to assist regional teams across Canada when needed. They embodied what I strive to be. 

The first day was full of slideshows and academic presentations. These always drag on while sparking conversations. I saw how Canadian and USA law compare regarding public safety diving. After all the dry legal information was covered, we moved on to the operational aspects of diving on surface-supplied gas. By the end of the day, everyone’s minds were ready for time in the water.

The next morning began three weeks spent doing what we all love to do: dive. It was slow going to start. Candidates had to understand setup procedures, checklists and team positions. The required steps and duties became easier as days and weeks passed. Often during the first week, the staff asked me to assist in the water and act as a safety or an additional set of eyes. 

I continued discussions with all the instructors and students alike to understand not only the what of their operations, but also the why.

My Takeaways

To truly become a subject matter expert, you must move beyond just being able to execute. You need to move into the realm of the cognitive. Doing so allows you to apply fundamentals to outside-the-box situations. As their national coordinator put it, “Do not ask why we should do this on surface-supply. Ask why we shouldn’t.”

The course focused on training divers to perform missions with the utmost safety. What is safer than a diver whose only focus is the task at hand? Earlier, I listed all the things I had to think about as a diver on scuba especially as a public safety divers must focus in zero visibility. Surface-supplied diving reduces these worries. The RCMP divers can focus on their primary tasks in the water because a panel operator is responsible for their air, time and depth. Each diver has a tender who helps dress them and get them into the water. A dive supervisor conducts all the planning and monitoring of the dive station. This helps ensure everything goes according to the plan. Divers only had to worry about their mission. This increases the chance of success.

We began in shallow water, conducting a series of searches and projects. We ended in deep water doing limited decompression interior searches of shipwrecks.

I felt lucky not only to attend this course but to see how the RCMP dive team operates. I also assisted in the water, helping to instruct where I could in general surface-supplied diving techniques. The experience opened my eyes to alternate ways of teaching and increased my own diving abilities. 

My goal is to continue to try and stretch my abilities each year taking courses, even the ones I teach to see what I can learn. I am not, nor will I ever be the be-all/end-all in any subject. It is my challenge to myself and every diver and instructor I meet to stay current and relevant by seeking similar opportunities to learn and grow.

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