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Reflections of a Public Safety Diver

by Darrell Adams:
PS DiverThere are many moments in a public safety servant’s job that leave lasting imprints which will mold one’s own mindset by which they govern all future personal actions. These reflections, whether good, bad, or indifferent, make up critical waypoints in a person’s personal journey throughout his or her career that lead to the choices made or not made when called upon in the service of public safety.

“If we were logical, the future would be bleak indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope and we can work.” – Jacques Cousteau

So throughout our careers, if we are not making a positive difference in the lives we affect like those of co-workers, peers, patients, and victims, then we have failed in the calling of service. There are many times while in the performance of our job we are faced with interactions that can truly make a difference in the lives of those for whom we have been called upon to provide assistance, and to those with whom we serve. A personal challenge everyone should take upon themselves is that we start every day and service call with the notion that we can help those in need, and ensure that our jobs do make a difference.

When reflecting upon the calls over my career with which I have been fortunate to have been involved, I realize I have many times seen desperation in the eyes of loved ones who are looking for some answers to questions or seeking closure regarding something tragic or unimaginable. I remember a particular incident that happened on Father’s Day when a family was out boating on a lake and the dad had fallen off the boat and failed to surface. The grieving family made a religious request that many of us were not familiar with after they had sought counsel. These few moments that this family needed that ceased our operation mid-stream, I later found out ultimately meant the most to them as to the overall comfort for this family when dealing with the loss of a husband and father. This family’s clergy also offered religious insight with regard to assisting with locating this victim. We advised the family that we would use this information in our recovery attempt. Having the willingness to be understanding of cultures different from one’s own can only help the healing process of those who are grieving. Taking the time to listen can make the biggest difference.

This does lead me to another topic associated with the interactions of family and friends during an operational period. Many times at the scene of recoveries it can be seen where family and friends want to help in any capacity possible because sitting and doing nothing does not seem logical for them. Friends and families of victims may also not understand the method to our madness when it comes to search pathology. Taking a few extra minutes to explain to the family what a search might entail may help reduce tensions and emotional reactions against the response personnel. Another response that comes to mind was when a young child was playing near a swollen creek that was about ten feet above flood stage. The child fell into the water. This was a call that lasted seven days and required the response of many teams over those days. Some of the family members grew impatient due to not understanding what was involved in a search and recovery operation in a moving water environment. Working with extended family and their clergy to help clear tensions, the divers were able to finally bring closure for them. Later, these families came back and offered their thanks for helping in a time of need.

After the recovery of a loved one, the healing process takes a new path and can be difficult to navigate for some. Seeking assistance from others who can relate can move a person along a better path of coping with loss. An excellent resource to provide for grieving family members is the “Drowning Support Network” that was founded by Nancy Rigg after the loss of her fiancé. This group has a closed Facebook page and Yahoo group that family members of drowning victims can join and seek assistance from peers.

As public safety divers we have the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of those we are called to serve. They may not understand what it takes to do our job and the amount of time, commitment, and expense entailed. However, taking those few minutes to let them know you care and what you are trying to do to help them, does make a difference to them.


Darrell Adams
SDI/TDI/ERDI Instructor Trainer with Air Hogs Scuba in Garner, NC, Captain with the Harnett County Underwater Search & Recovery Dive Team and Technical Rescue Instructor for the NC Fire and Rescue Commission

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