rec-divers-to-public-safety

How to Move from a Recreation to a Public Safety Dive Team

By: Wes Foster

In all of the previous ERDI blogs, many different topics have been discussed. Each one is justified in its own respect. Articles such as recruiting and selecting the right members, how to convince your supervisor you need the training, assessing and performing regular training, where to get the funding, proper equipment selection, what to do once you arrive on scene, safe scene operations, and how to make sure everyone goes home in the same (or better) condition than they arrived are all beneficial. However, one situation that needs to be addressed combines all of those factors. How do you move from a recreational based team to an outstanding public safety team with the proper training and experience? This article is about how one team succeeded.

Public safety courses are more intense.

While attending college in the early 90’s I decided to try something new. Scuba diving. In the following years, I took additional classes to gain additional experience with the hopes that I could use it in my career as a law enforcement officer. I had seen pictures in the paper of teams during operations and was always intrigued and amazed at the techniques and equipment available. Perhaps the most meaningful of my trainings occurred in 2007, when I heard about a public safety diving course offered by a law enforcement training agency and jumped at the chance to see what it was about. The course was the ERDI ERD 1 course. Needless to say, my eyes were opened to a new realm of diving. While all public safety diving courses are based on recreational scuba diving techniques, public safety courses are more intense and incorporate technical and commercial diving aspects. Hence the adage “public safety diving is not recreational.”

After 15 years of previous law enforcement experience, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve as an officer with the Charleston Police Department in 2011. I was excited to join their ranks because of the level of professionalism and respect the CPD held in the law enforcement community. In addition to their reputation, I also knew that they had a longstanding Underwater Recovery Team. Approximately 17% of the municipal boundaries are underwater. The City of Charleston also includes the Port of Charleston within its jurisdiction. I immediately began inquiring about the possibility of joining the team, which was a concurrent assignment to the standard assigned position.

I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a squad under the supervision of the team commander of the Underwater Recovery Team. We had several conversations during which I expressed my desire to join the team. Several months later, I was invited to attend tryouts. To my excitement, I was offered a position as a diver on the team. My previous training and experience in public safety diving had served me well.

After my integration into the team, I quickly learned that even though a minimum of advanced open water certification through an RSTC training agency was a requirement for being on the team, the agency did not provide training that was needed or required under OSHA and NFPA regulations. The vast majority of additional training was done at the personal expense of the divers, with regards to both time and finances. Due to this factor, I found that I had more training and certifications than even the longest standing members on the team.

This inspired me to start talking to the supervisors and explaining what I had already been taught.

The team commander saw and understood the information I was passing along and began to embrace the idea of transforming the team. But, just like most other public safety agencies, the budgets are strained and every request is under intense scrutiny. The idea slowly began to take hold, and the decision was made to appoint a new team commander as a “fresh set of eyes”. A member of the CPD Command Staff was to come in and perform a formal assessment of equipment and training needs for the team.

What most people would consider a hindrance, we saw as an opportunity. The newly appointed team commander was someone who had no previous dive training or knowledge. His primary requirement to formally assume command of the team was to successfully complete Open Water certification. We scheduled his private open water certification course for the first available dates with two SDI and ERDI Instructors to enable him to have as much time as possible to learn and hear what we had been talking about. This course was conducted away from Charleston in order to allow him time to fully concentrate on his new skill set. After successfully completing his check off dives in an unusual ice storm, he came back energetic and ready to move forward.

The Charleston PD regularly assesses its current operational levels and state of readiness for any standard or unexpected events. During the next couple of months, the commander performed an audit of all current equipment and diver certification levels to get a better feel for the status of the team. It was determined during the audit that the previous supervisor operated the team like he had been trained to do throughout the years. Other previous members even stated they did not have prior knowledge that the team was subject to any other regulations. After the audit, several targets for upgrades or improvement were identified and a three-year plan was enacted to replace current equipment and to increase and enhance training.

We immediately began to request funding through the agency’s standard operating budget in addition to applying for Homeland Security and Port Security grant funding.

The first step was replacing specific equipment. The second was training.

We began by taking baby steps on equipment, starting with new dive lights and progressing to BC systems, adding gas switching blocks and pony bottles. We later progressed to replacing the dry suits with two separate sets – one for training and standard missions and another for actual operations involving contaminated water. We recently ordered and are anticipating delivery of new positive pressure full face masks, underwater lighting, waterproof cameras for documenting scenes, and wired and wireless communications systems.

Training, however, was a separate issue. Funding was not initially included in the budget for any training courses for the team. The initial idea was to bring an SDI and ERDI Instructor on staff to complete all of the training “in house”, effectively reducing the monetary amount that would be spent. Due to budget concerns, I had an opportunity and took it upon myself to pay for and to attend an SDI Open Water Instructor course. At the very least, I could start offering team members the basic courses so that all divers could eventually receive Rescue Diver training and certifications.

The training was approved on the spot.

The team had operated as a recreational team and had never been introduced to the public safety concept – including the OSHA and NFPA standards – involving the issues of operating in a workplace environment. During the first budget request involving training, we requested for the entire team to be trained and certified in ERD 1, so that we could move toward the public safety concept and insure compliance with OSHA and NFPA regulations. When the budget caucus reached the request, the Chief of Police looked at the team commander and asked “So are you saying the team does not meet the current training standards right now?” There was silence in the room until the team commander answered with, “No sir”. The training was approved on the spot. After the meeting, and verifying some information with ERDI/SDI, the Team commander made the call to place the team in a stand down status, until the new training could be accomplished.  This period was also used to have all the teams equipment serviced and inspected to give us a solid “start date” when we began to apply the OSHA and NFPA standards to the team.

Training was immediately scheduled, and two months later the entire team was brought to the ERD 1 level, including my completion of the ERD Instructor course. Approximately 6 months later, the entire team went through ERD 2, and training has not stopped.

Operationally, all new team members, including tenders, are to be trained to Rescue Diver after they are brought onto the team. They are also provided with the ERD 1 and 2 curriculum, along with several other specialties such as dry suit, full face mask, CPROx, etc.

The team also had an ROV that had not been used on a regular basis. The system was returned to the manufacturer for servicing and upgrades so it could be entered back into service and placed in the water before a diver ever enters to perform tasks. International Training approved a lesson plan and now we have three certified ERD VideoRay Pro4 ROV Technicians.

We take what we learn, both positive and negative, to adapt and overcome obstacles.

While we are not a “perfect” team, we are continually working and progressing to make the team better – and safer. We take what we learn, both positive and negative, to adapt and overcome obstacles. The whole team has gotten behind the approach and methods 100%. Each member is encouraged to improve their knowledge and training, and bring it back to share with the other members. In fact, the team is now a FEMA Type II Public Safety Dive Team and rapidly progressing towards Type I. The team commanders I referenced earlier are attending an IDC/IEC and will hopefully be SDI and ERDI Instructors by the end of March. Several other members are looking at moving into the professional arena. The three-year plan that was initially created by the new team commander for improving equipment and training was completed in 18 months.

Whether you’re contemplating starting a team, on a current team, or looking at how to improve your personal or team training and capabilities, never stop moving forward. If you feel like you’re “in a rut”, take a different approach and try to attack the situation from a different angle. The public safety professionals I know all assess the situation and make every attempt to “make it happen” with a positive outcome. Contact an ERDI Instructor and see how far you can take your team. You may be surprised what you and your team can achieve.

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2 replies
  1. Michael Crumley
    Michael Crumley says:

    Thanks for the article Wes! I am forwarding it to our command staff. The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office is currently in the process of rebooting our dive team with the Sheriff investing a significant amount of resources in equipment and training. We are transitioning to a true PSD team with all divers trained at the ERD-1 level within the next 3-weeks and more training to follow. We recently became an SDI/ERDI Training Facility and, like you, have an SDI/ERDI Instructor on-staff. It is beneficial to see that one of our neighboring agencies has already been down this road ahead of us and that the goal is not out of reach. We look forward to working with your team in the future!

    Reply
    • Wes Foster
      Wes Foster says:

      Thanks for the comments Michael! I’m glad to see BCSO progressing into the PSD realm. There’s another neighboring team that’s also about to join in, and I’m sure you’ll hear about that pretty soon. We look forward to working with you and your team more in the near future. If you’d like to set up some joint training exercises, feel free to let us know!

      Reply

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Related Blog Articles

public-safety-funding
surf-rescue
2 replies
  1. Michael Crumley
    Michael Crumley says:

    Thanks for the article Wes! I am forwarding it to our command staff. The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office is currently in the process of rebooting our dive team with the Sheriff investing a significant amount of resources in equipment and training. We are transitioning to a true PSD team with all divers trained at the ERD-1 level within the next 3-weeks and more training to follow. We recently became an SDI/ERDI Training Facility and, like you, have an SDI/ERDI Instructor on-staff. It is beneficial to see that one of our neighboring agencies has already been down this road ahead of us and that the goal is not out of reach. We look forward to working with your team in the future!

    Reply
    • Wes Foster
      Wes Foster says:

      Thanks for the comments Michael! I’m glad to see BCSO progressing into the PSD realm. There’s another neighboring team that’s also about to join in, and I’m sure you’ll hear about that pretty soon. We look forward to working with you and your team more in the near future. If you’d like to set up some joint training exercises, feel free to let us know!

      Reply

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