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Do You Have What it Takes to be Part of a Public Safety Dive Team?

What does it take to be a member of a dive team? I get that question quite often from individuals looking to go further in diving or seeking to find some way to be more involved within their communities.

Take Your Tech Diving Skills to the Public Safety Sector

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
erdi diver
Scuba diving is a sport in which a person can always grow and learn. Anyone who has looked at the list of available classes out there can understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to scuba education. Similarly, there exist multiple types of diving around which a diver can focus education, skill progression, and experience. The reality of the various educational pathways is that they all have the potential to build upon one another.

Public Safety Diving is a type of diving based upon the training divers receive along a pathway. First, public safety divers are trained as open water scuba divers. From that point, they may venture directly into the public safety realm or move on to learn more about technical or recreational skill sets. Like any other subject, increased education and experience often leads toward an improved level of overall performance. Essentially, the more a diver gets wet, and the more that diver tries to learn, the better he or she may have the potential to become as a public safety diver.

Public safety diving is one of the most dangerous realms within scuba diving. Divers often enter the water not knowing bottom terrain, currents may be present, and the visibility may be nil. Similarly, the technical diving realm is one in which divers work to better understand physiology, gas switches, safety precautions, and bailout procedures. Many of these activities are practiced without a mask while maintaining neutral buoyancy. Each of these subjects has a direct correlation to public safety diving. Imagine that a diver is in zero visibility, stuck in an entanglement hazard, and low on air. Technical training can better prepare that public safety diver to handle gas switches and emergency procedures while blind.

Similarly, technical divers tend to focus on streamlining equipment, exposure protection, moving items for convenient placement, neutral buoyancy, launching buoys and bags, and equipment redundancy. Again, each of these actions can also be found within public safety diving. First, public safety divers often carry lots of equipment and wear bulky garments. This equipment must be streamlined to prevent entanglement issues and moved around as needed for easy access in zero visibility. Second, public safety divers often spend time on the bottom doing hand searches for missing items. The problem with settling on the bottom is that the diver may accidentally move, cover, bury, or miss an item. The diver may also further “muck up” the environment for secondary searches. Finally, public safety divers often carry lots of redundant items for safety. Many of these items may be marker buoys or even lift bags.

Technical training may be a perfect baseline for any public safety diver. Technical training can teach a diver to perform tasks while close to the bottom but maintaining neutral buoyancy, and move excess items around on the body in a fashion that helps streamline equipment and reduce the effect on diver trim. Essentially, technical training may allow a public safety diver to better understand how to carry equipment, use equipment, reduce any effect on bottom terrain, and avoid the development of foreseeable problems. Every Technical Diving International class also teaches divers to launch buoys and bags. Every public safety diver must be proficient at launching marker buoys and working with lift bags. Again, this is technical training that can help any public safety diver become more proficient at his or her trade.

In regard to overhead environments, technical training may also include cave training. Cave training teaches divers how to be safe and proficient in overhead environments when visibility may change in a quick fashion. Cave divers learn to lay lines that can be followed back to an exit while working in a confined space and as a team. Again, each of these actions is something valuable to a public safety diver. Almost any environment may be considered an overhead environment for a public safety diver. If the diver cannot see, he or she may not know what is overhead or if there is an obstruction between the diver and the surface. Training to lay lines and understand how to properly backtrack can help a public safety diver remain safe in an unknown environment. Similarly, a proper education on laying lines can help a diver or dive team return to a known location in an efficient fashion, mark specific positions, and do so while maintaining a tight continuous line with minimal extraneous hazard developments. Finally, cave divers are trained to deal with tight spaces. Imagine a public safety diver entering a wrecked school bus in an effort to perform a recovery. That diver must be able to act and react in a proficient fashion with minimal space to move. This is something that cave classes teach.

Technical training is something that can help any public safety diver become more proficient at necessary skill sets. The current problem is that many public safety divers begin public safety training and do not have the personal time or resources to take on technical programs. As excess or secondary training opportunities, technical classes should be considered by public safety dive teams to help provide growth and development opportunities for divers. Education and time in the water is something that can help any diver. The first big step is to inquire about training opportunities and to decide for yourself how it can help you or your team.


– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

Equipment Similarities in Public Safety Diving and Firefighting

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
erdi diver

Around the world, various groups and organizations work to protect and support local communities through public safety activities. One particular group of public servants who can be found in almost any community consists of firefighters. Each day, firefighters work to save lives, fight fires, provide medical support, and in certain cases provide special team capabilities for communities. Special team capabilities may include search and rescue, hazardous materials decontamination, dive operations, and other things.

Each day, firefighters use specific gear designed to keep them safe in hazardous environments. This equipment includes items for exposure protection, breathing, and performing tasks. In many ways, the gear carried by firefighters is very similar to scuba gear carried by public safety divers and that gear often serves many of the same purposes. Listed below are some examples of these similarities.

 

  • Turn Out Gear

 

First, firefighters carry equipment for personal protection. This gear consists of a jacket, pants, boots, gloves, and a helmet. The jacket and pants are designed to be fire-resistant and are often adorned with reflective markings for increased visibility in poor conditions. Similarly, the gloves provide hand protection as a firefighter may reach for hot objects and the boots are designed to be puncture resistant since they may be worn in dangerous environments. Lastly, the helmet protects a firefighter’s head from falling objects or airborne debris.

Like firefighters, public safety divers wear equipment for personal protection. Dry suits are often worn to protect divers from hazardous environments and to provide thermal regulation in poor conditions. Gloves are worn to protect the hands as divers perform searches and boots cover the feet (weather mounted to a dry suit or worn over soft soles) to ensure a diver can walk and move in a proper fashion. Divers even wear helmets on occasion when overhead environments or debris in the water may present the possibility of a possible head injury. Just like firefighters, public safety divers must wear equipment designed to protect them from harsh environments so that rescue or recovery operations can be performed. Similarly, the majority of personal protection equipment designed for public safety divers also has reflective taping just like the equipment worn by firefighters.

 

  • Breathing Apparatus

 

When a firefighter enters a burning building, the presence of smoke may reduce the firefighter’s ability to breath in a safe fashion. To When a firefighter enters a burning building, the presence of smoke may reduce the firefighter’s ability to breath in a safe fashion. To overcome this issue, each firefighter may wear a self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA. An SCBA provides clean breathing gas on demand to a firefighter wearing a mask that covers his or her face. In comparison, divers cannot breathe underwater without the availability of breathing gas. Public safety divers often carry cylinders which feed compressed breathing gas to second stages attached to full-face masks. Like firefighters, full-face masks are worn to provide a clean breathing space and facial protection from the outside environment.

In both situations, cylinders are carried by public safety personnel. These cylinders must be analyzed and inspected for use. The Department of Transportation requires hydrostatic testing to be performed on cylinders every five years, and developed standards within the scuba industry call for a visual inspection every 12 months. The process of performing a visual inspection is something that public safety personnel can now be trained to do for his or her department (and for personal cylinders) through Scuba Diving International.

 

  • Alarms and Computers

 

Many firefighters carry personal safety alarms when they are called to fight fires. The purpose of the alarm is to sound after a period of non-movement. The alarm is designed to inform others that a firefighter is in trouble as well as to signal his or her location. These alarms are called personal alert safety systems or PASS devices. Often they are worn in conjunction with a firefighter’s breathing apparatus. Similarly, public safety divers often wear computers designed to collect data and provide information related to safety. If a diver ascends too quickly or does not follow the proper profile, audible or visual alarms will signal to the diver.

 

  • Tools

 

With regard to tools, firefighters use many. These tools may include axes, hammers, lights, ropes, crow bars, shovels, halligan bars, wrenches, and various other items. These tools allow firefighters to perform tasks in as safe a manner as possible. Like firefighters, public safety divers may carry many different tools. These tools may include lights, knives, shears, metal detectors, pry bars, window punches, line cutters, and various other items. Though the tools used by public safety divers may not be as “heavy-duty,” they are often used for similar purposes. In each case, a public safety individual may need to cut, pry, bend, break, or even find an item. Tools are used to complete necessary objectives.

 

  • Buddy Teams

 

Finally, though it is not an equipment factor, both public safety divers and firefighters use buddy teams. Firefighters often maintain a “two in – two out” plan. The goal is that a paired team enters a dangerous environment together and then the pair exits together. Public safety divers work in the same fashion. A diver either dives with a buddy in the water, or attached to a tender via a tether. In each situation, every diver maintains a buddy at all times and the diver and buddy care for each other until the dive is complete.

Public safety personnel often perform similar tasks and use instruments to complete objectives that are very comparable. The working environment may be the real difference. Essentially, divers work in an aquatic environment whereas firefighters often deal with flames. Despite differing environments, equipment is generally designed to suit similar needs in these differing environments. These similarities are what make operational changes and transitions more acceptable for people serving in more than one role. A firefighter may be trained to deal with burning buildings, but when the need arises, with proper training that same firefighter can adapt to perform dive operations. The fact that the equipment has similar functionality only makes these transitions easier to understand and the use of similar equipment more sensible.


– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba – Garner, NC

4 Tips for Getting Tethered Safely

by Ron Dorneker and Sean Harrison:
tethered diver

Interview with Deputy District Chief for Chicago Fire Department, Ron Dorneker

ERDI – Chief Dorneker, first off, thank you for taking the time to sit down with Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) and discuss what we think is a very important topic. There are varying opinions on whether divers should be tethered or not but for the purposes of this article we are going to discuss it from the point of view that all divers are tethered.

Before we get into the time tested tips you have to offer, let’s give the readers a little background on you, and your team, so they have a better understanding of the size and typical number of responses and environments your team dives in.

Chief Dorneker – I have been in charge of the Chicago Fire Department Marine & Dive Operations since 2001. There are approximately 140 Chicago Fire Department personnel currently working as Public Safety Divers. This includes divers assigned on our Helicopters, FastBoat 688, SCUBA Team 687 and Squad Companies 1, 2, 5 and 7. These divers act as first responders to immediate life threats due to drowning anywhere within the open waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Calumet, Wolf Lake, the Chicago River, the Calumet River, the Shipping and Sanitary Canal as well as lagoons and ponds around the city. A mutual aid is also given to surrounding inland lakes and the Lake Michigan waterfront of surrounding suburbs. Diving conditions can include black water, polluted waters, extreme cold and ice conditions, and during severe weather and night time operations.

Last year the Chicago Fire Department responded to 249 water rescue incidents. Those incidents included drowning, persons having general trouble in the water, persons missing in the water, jumpers from bridges, persons in or on the ice, vehicles in the water, boat sinkings, boat fires, stranded boat, boat accidents, animals in the water or in/on the ice, victim recovery operations, roadway floods, and rescues of people from their homes during residential flooding.

Also last year, the Chicago Fire Department Divers logged over 3200 hours of training for those types of incidents.

Tip 1

ERDI – Thank you for that very insightful behind the scenes view of your team. Very impressive! Let’s get to the topic at hand and see if we can break this down into critical components. Having watched you work with your team over the years, I know you keep a pretty close eye on things and constantly analyze if operations are working or how they could work better. Staying on the cutting edge of safety. What is the first thing your teams does when it comes to tethering?

Chief Dorneker – Our divers wear a chest harness over their dry suits and under the BCD. The attachment point on the harness is a D-Ring located at the center of the chest. We fasten a carabineer to our tether lines and attach that to the D-Ring. Once the diver is connected to that tether line, the tender must hold that line in his hand until the diver is dressed down and the line is disconnected.

Tip 2

ERDI – What kind of checks or inspections does your team perform?

Chief Dorneker – Tether lines are inspected each day by the oncoming team of divers as part of their daily inventory. The team also inspects the lines before each dive, and again after the dive when being put back in service. This inspection is overseen by the Dive Supervisor.

Harnesses are inspected by the individual diver each day before being put in service. The harness is checked again during a tender check of the diver before we begin the dive. This inspection is also overseen by the Dive Supervisor.

Tip 3

ERDI – What is the reasoning behind tethering your divers?

Chief Dorneker – We tether our divers for two reasons, safety and search effectiveness.

As far as safety goes, Chicago Fire Department divers are always tethered and use full face mask communications during all dive operations. This allows the team to know the exact location of the diver in the water. During any diver distress, our contingency training and plan uses that tether line as a means to descend directly to the distressed diver. Descending on that line saves time. Time is always our enemy when it comes to water rescue operations.

With regard to effectiveness, after identifying the last seen point and determining the area to search, we direct our diver to search an exact area. We call that area “the box.” The tender uses landmarks to keep the diver in the box and conduct a thorough search. We know how long each leg of the search will be, and how many legs of the search the diver will swim to search the entire box. Having the diver on a tether and being tender-directed allows us to factor in visibility to maximize our efforts. We know from the diver what the visibility is during the search. This allows the tender to modify the patterns so the diver does not have to swim to the edge of the box. The tender can stop the diver short on each leg of the box based on visibility. This saves time, has the diver swimming less distance and results in a quicker search of the area.

Tip 4

ERDI – Any other thoughts on tethered divers?

Chief Dorneker – Solo divers being tendered, directed during search and rescue operations, require training on both the part of the diver and tender. It is not easy for someone not used to diving with tether lines to master that skill. It is also not easy to communicate simple thoughts from a tender to a diver. Standardized patterns and standardized communications helped our team achieve success with solo divers being tendered, directed to locate victims and also helped keep our team safer.

4 Tips to Help You Prepare to Testify in Court

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
courtroom gavelWithin the public safety community the court room is a place to which individuals may be called at any time. Legal proceedings surrounding injuries, recoveries, operations, and activities may require individuals, groups, or even whole teams to bring insight before jurors or a judge. For this reason, public safety dive teams must be prepared to explain their actions and findings involving any operational activity. Though being called to court is not a common occurrence for public safety divers, training must be put into place to prepare for what MAY happen. A lack of preparation could bring harm to the stability of a dive team or even allow a law-breaking individual to go free because of a lack of information, evidence, or observable competency from the dive team. A dive team member who performs perfectly underwater, but who cannot face an attorney may present what appears to be incompetence to a judging group of jurors.

Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) has developed a course program designed to help dive team members be mentally prepared to face the courtroom. This program, Testifying in Court, discusses topics from proper wear and appearance for courtroom proceedings to preparation prior to court. Being prepared is the most efficient manner in which a diver can comfortably face questions from attorneys and provide truthful and quality data as needed.

Four tips that can help any public safety diver prepare for court:

Review the subpoena

A subpoena is a legal document issued by a governmental body (most often the court) to an individual or group requiring that person or body to present information. If that person or body does not follow through with the presentation of evidence or information, the person or group will be penalized. If a dive team or dive team member is presented with a subpoena, the document should be reviewed for information. A subpoena will often provide information regarding the evidence or testimony desired by the court system as well as the names and actions related to that evidence or testimony. The date, type of court, time, and location of the required presentation will also be listed along with the attorney who issued the subpoena through the court system.

A subpoena must be reviewed to make sure that a dive team or team member understands why they are being called to appear, what items must be taken to present to the court, and when and where the person or group must be available to sit before the court. Understanding this information will also help establish a timeframe for preparation and presentation practice.

Review the dive reports

Once a subpoena has been reviewed, all information regarding the associated dive operation must be pulled and reviewed and by all available parties who partook in the operation. Team members must work together to develop a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of what actions were performed, what items were found, and how that information was documented. This may also involve photographs, sketches, or other forms of documentation that must be compiled and copied for the court.

A diver should never enter the courtroom without understanding what took place and his or her actions in a clear fashion. For this reason, team members should rely on each other and documented information to ensure that a clear memory is recalled. A lack of memory regarding an old operation will not be viewed as acceptable or competent within a courtroom setting.

Meet with the attorney or solicitor

Next, a team must take the time to meet with the attorney or solicitor who generated the subpoena. A meeting of this type will help establish what information must be presented and in what manner. Essentially, the person or persons presenting information will be better able to prepare and present relevant information and avoid unforeseen questioning. This meeting will also give both parties the opportunity to plan out pertinent questions and responses associated with case-based information.

Know where to go

Finally, the diver or team members required to appear before the court must know where to go and when. If an individual fails to appear in court in response to a subpoena, that person can be held in contempt of court and face legal consequences. Similarly, the individual being asked to testify may be viewed as incompetent, and therefore critical case-related data may be eliminated from court proceedings. A situation such as this may even cause a case to be dropped and a potentially guilty defendant to go free.

When the court system calls upon a diver, that diver must be prepared to present knowledgeable and quality data in a competent fashion. To accomplish this goal, dive teams must be prepared for the potential need to present information in court through the development of both education and mission records. ERDI has developed an educational program to help any team achieve this objective. Through competent action and the ability to record and recall information, teams can both justify actions and verify operational credibility.


– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

The Training You Cannot Skip if You Want to Bring Your Team Home Safely

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
ERDI diverDive 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.

ERDI team trainingOnce 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

Make Sure Your Team Comes Home Safely From Every Mission

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
ERDI team trainingAlmost every day, the news media produce images and stories about different dive teams performing active operations around the world. These operations range from simple recoveries to major rescue efforts. In every case, the viewer almost always sees some sort of joint operation in which divers work with differing public safety agencies. The mission seems to be paramount in comparison to everything else being depicted. That being said, the viewer does not see the primary objective of any dive mission, which is: to bring the divers home safely. Safety must always come first, and any person involved in the dive mission must make it home, above all other tasks and objectives.

Many factors are associated with team member safety, but the first is scene security and safety. ERDI training teaches students to review operational scenes, to look for potential threats or problems, and to plan for safe entries and exits. Prior to arriving on scene, and even following arrival, team leadership must watch for potential problems and make adjustments as needed to eliminate excessive risk. An example can be found if an entry is steep, hazardous, or unsafe. In a situation such as this, a different entry point must be chosen. A diver’s physical safety must not be endangered in an effort to make use of the closest entry point.

Second, dive teams have a bad habit of racing to scenes and each team member wants to be the individual who finds the lost item. This type of behavior is unacceptable unless the potential exists for a live victim. If a search is needed to locate items such as a body, evidentiary items, or even a vehicle, the team involved has all the time in the world when facing possible safety issues. There is no acceptable level of risk that is worth a diver’s life. The team must take time to plan the operation, implement that plan, react to possible issues, safely recover any items, and secure each diver following the operation. These steps take time, and haste can cause people to make errors. Any error could cost someone his or her life when dealing with complex equipment in zero visibility environments. Essentially, thorough planning and a slow but thoughtful pace are critical to team success.

On a dive scene, every team member is a dive safety officer. If problems are recognized or the potential for injury is discovered, the team member discovering these issues must make them known. Timidity or refraining from acknowledging risk to a supervisor could elevate the potential for harm to a teammate. For this reason, team leaders must encourage team members to speak up and to remain honest when problems are discovered. Any diver has the right to call a mission. The rules of recreational diving must spill over into public safety when safety is a concern. If the risk to human life is great, a dive must be called.

Safety must always come first in diving. Public safety diving is no different in this aspect from any other type of diving. Teams must train for the worst and hope for the best. If team members have prepared for worst case scenarios, and practiced how to cope with any foreseeable issue, risks may be reduced. The objective for any team member should be to return home with his or her fellow teammates. Public safety divers of all types must watch each other’s backs, protect one another, and stay focused on the mission at hand while remembering that the diver comes first. If this level of trust does not exist within a team, a diver could become injured and the team may not be available the next time the community has a need.

– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

How to Convince Your Supervisor You Need ERDI Training

by Dr. Thomas Powell:
PSD trainingDive teams around the United States exist to serve communities, territories, and regions. These teams often operate within specific geographic areas. In many situations, a dive team undergoes training and obtains equipment until leadership or an oversight group determines that the team can be deemed operational. Essentially, the team can then begin to perform assigned tasks such as rescue, recovery, or investigative operations. From that point forward, many teams focus on maintenance rather than improvement. When new divers join teams of this type, they are required to meet a certain standard, but the team as a whole entertains “in-service” refresher-style training rather than new concepts or courses.

The act of maintaining a “good-enough” status is one that does not encourage forward movement. Operators in this type of environment often lose the excitement associated with training events and become “rusty” in regard to basic skills. Individuals may view training actions as “the same old thing” and simply go through the motions required when not faced with new tasks and challenges. Training in new areas and performing new skills encourages divers to stay fresh and remain active. When people learn new skills, they are more likely to want to use those skills and gain practical efficiency. Education and vast skill sets can make any dive team better, and increase the likelihood of successful results associated with operational missions.

Training is a factor that can help any team improve and protect itself. All leaders overseeing public safety organizations recognize and understand the topic of liability. If a dive team performs an improper action, or operates in an unsafe manner, the team and its leaders are liable and face judgment on some level. Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) works to ensure that course programs meet NFPA and OSHA standards. ERDI is the only agency of its type to take on this challenge. This standardization ensures oversight bodies that teams undergoing training in ERDI programs are being taught to operate in a manner that may reduce liability and ensure a safe operational environment. For this reason, team leaders can be encouraged to protect a team’s assets and operational status by training to become safer. This factor is the number one standard that suggests dive teams should seek out ERDI training and work to climb the training ladder within this educational system.

Dive team leaders often enjoy the idea of mutual aid agreements and deals that improve team benefits. If a team has the ability to perform one type of mission, that team will have that capability’s associated value. If that same team learns to perform multiple mission types, the value associated with that team improves tremendously. Essentially, the team would have increased capabilities that can be offered to both a local community and surrounding areas. Offering assistance availability to outside areas can often lead to financial, human, and even political support. To achieve a level of increased capability, dive teams must seek training and knowledge. This knowledge must be obtained, practiced, and then put to use. If a team uses training in an effective manner, various added benefits may be obtained through team education. ERDI is a training agency that focuses on first developing quality divers who can dive in a safe fashion. From that point, a fitness standard must be established and core public safety skills must be developed. These standards can be seen in the ERD 1, ERD 2, and ERD Dive Training Supervisor course standards. ERDI also maintains specialized training that focuses on contaminated water, hull searching, swift water operations, threat assessment, full-face mask operations, dry suit operations, small boat operations, helicopter operations, technical ropes use, crime scene investigations, and various others realms of expertise. Similarly, instructors with specialized skill sets are encouraged to develop needed course programs for teams that can be vetted by subject matter experts and studied to ensure OSHA and NFPA compliance. These educational programs provided by ERDI are unparalleled and focus on diver safety. The course programs provided by ERDI are taught by field experts around the United States who are actively working with dive teams and who have experience in public safety dive environments. For these reasons, team leaders should be encouraged to research how effective ERDI programs have become around the United States. The proof of success can be found among the teams that have already trained within the ERDI system.

Finally, teams must look at the past and determine how effective they have been and what team capabilities have been lacking. A review of this type will show team leaders where weakness exist. To become more efficient, teams should seek ERDI training programs that will eliminate these weaknesses. Training courses require skill practice and skill practice is what makes a dive team improve. Educational programs such as those developed and provided by ERDI can help a dive team to become more prepared for operational missions and better able to serve their communities.


– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

Funding Your Public Safety Dive Team

Tough economic times confront all law enforcement agencies and EMS departments, but grants, private organizations and social media fundraising offer viable alternatives for budget-challenged departments.

Are You Prepared to go to Court?

by Thomas Powell:
testifying in court

In March of 2014, a simulated body recovery exercise near the east coast of North Carolina brought a concern to light for many dive teams that do not involve sworn law enforcement divers. On the day of the exercise, two senior detectives associated with a local Sheriff’s Department were working with a local search and rescue dive team for the first time. The two detectives were largely unaware of dive team operating procedures, and the dive team had not spent any considerable length of time training to adapt to the needs of Sheriff’s Department representatives. As lead crime scene investigators, the detectives, expressed worry about volunteer divers having to face an attorney in a courtroom with regard to evidence recovery and crime scene security.

Sworn law enforcement personnel are trained to deal with crime scene procedures and to follow evidence recovery protocols. Those sworn officers, deputies, or agents are then taught how to present information to a court room or court official in an honest and proper method. In a similar fashion, dive teams are taught to follow basic standards that must then be adapted to local needs and historical precedence. The problem is that many volunteer dive team members have never had to sit before a court room or defense attorney looking for problems associated with dive team actions. In most cases, volunteer divers have never even been trained on how to handle a court room scenario.

A court room can be a scary place. A defense attorney may seek to ruin a diver’s credibility, or find issues related to operational procedures. No dive team member wants to let the “bad guy” get away, or harm the credible image of his or her dive team. For this reason, a diver may crack under pressure, or become a problematic witness. Imagine you are a 19 year old volunteer who has joined a dive team in an effort to help your community and protect the people you love. You work hard, learn as much as you can, always show up, and establish true team dedication. Then one day you are the person who is tasked with recovering a child murder victim, surrounded by potential evidence, at 20 feet in zero-visibility water. You do your best and follow every standard you have learned in a methodical fashion. At the end of the day, your team and the local law enforcement representatives are proud of you and your actions.

Now fast-forward six months to a local court room where the evidence you collected helped bring a “bad guy” before the legal system. The defense attorney begins to question your methods. What did you miss because you could not see? What have you forgotten after six months of time? The attorney makes you question your skills and what you accomplished. Your concern begins to show before the jury, and you grow visibly upset because you know you did your best and now someone is questioning your abilities. This scenario could lead to the elimination of evidence and the release of a person who may have been truly guilty. This is a scenario that must be avoided if at all possible.

To compensate for a lack of basic education, the ERDI Testifying in Court program was developed to help any public safety diver be better prepared for a court room experience. This program helps a diver understand what may happen, how to dress when testifying, and even how to speak to the attorneys or a jury. A dive team must remember that this course is a fantastic preparatory tool, but then the divers must take a further step. The information learned in the Testifying in Court program must be practiced. Divers must work with leadership to cover the types of knowledge needed for a court room scenario, and then run through simulated practice scenarios to ensure diver comfort and ability when facing a real attorney.

Now go back to the court room in which you, the 19 year old volunteer was testifying. Imagine you are well-dressed and prepared with organized notes covering your actions and activities during your recovery operation. With each question, you are able to provide a confident and honest response that explains why and how you performed specific tasks. When you leave the court room that day, you know you were able to represent your team and your actions in the best manner possible. This secondary scenario is also one that would leave any diver more confident in relation to testifying during future court room scenarios.

A dive team of any sort must always be prepared to defend its actions. Data must be maintained as well as any information regarding activities, evidence collection, and scene operations. Prior to a court case, this information must be pulled and reviewed. Every step must be taken to ensure that any diver being asked to appear before court is confident, prepared, and supported in every possible fashion. To begin this process, the ERDI Testifying in Court program is an awareness-level course that can be used to better educate divers and prepare them for any court room experience that they may have never entertained before.


Thomas Powell
Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba
www.airhogsscuba.com