Recruiting for a dive team can be difficult, and in many cases your candidate pickings may be slim, but do not just accept members to fill seats.
If you are forming, or plan to form a new dive team, I wish you luck. Even when taking on this task, ask for help and learn how others have been successful.
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Within 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
by Dr. Thomas W. Powell:
In the modern scuba industry, individuals have many paths to choose from. One of the most complex routes an individual may take is that of the public safety diver. A public safety diver must first be a recreational scuba diver, and then choose to entertain black water, dangerous environments, and complex procedural standards. These factors suggest that a dive team made up of public safety divers must work hard to ensure member safety while seeking objective completion. Three of the most important factors that can keep a public safety diver safe are: knowing the environment and bottom, understanding risk versus benefit, and having the proper equipment.
Understanding the Environment
Understanding the environment in which a public safety dive team operates is critical. Every ERDI public safety course starts by telling students to “size up” a scene and take note of important information. This information may include objects such as vehicle wreckage or dangerous entry points, or even problematic odors such as the scent of fuel or dangerous gasses. If divers cannot prep and perform in a safe fashion, the associated mission is likely to grow problematic or unsafe.
Similarly, divers are taught to obtain information from outside resources and even witnesses to better understand a dive environment. A witness may help to focus a search area, while a local may know the bottom features of a body of water. Fishermen often know where lines get snagged or boats have trouble. If a witness can help narrow a search area, the divers will have a reduced area to cover which may reduce diver exhaustion and the total time underwater. If a local can provide information, a team leader may be better prepared for planning the proper search patterns or team resources to overcome possible hazards that were otherwise unknown.
Finally, public safety divers are taught to obtain information about water quality. This information may come from local labs, state facilities, or even the Environmental Protection Agency. This information can be filed and maintained to ensure that when a team deploys, as much data as possible is available to determine if a dive operation should be performed. Knowing the quality of water in a specific location may help a diver plan what equipment and support resources are needed. This knowledge may also help to show the need for resources maintained at differing departments (such as a HAZMAT team) to be made available on the scene of a dive.
Risk vs. Benefit
In regard to risks versus benefits, all forms of diving involve some level of risk analysis. A recreational diver must analyze possible depths, temperatures, personal health, and other factors to determine if a dive should be considered reasonable and safe on a satisfactory level. Public safety diving is no different other than to involve a greater set of risk factors. Team leaders and individual divers must determine if the lack of visibility, dangerous water quality, underwater hazards, and various other factors make a search worthwhile. For example, if a criminal has admitted to a crime, and other evidentiary factors have almost sealed a case for a prosecutor, the handgun lost in a swamp may not be worth seeking if the risk associated with harming a diver is too great.
Divers operating on public safety dive teams must recognize potential threats and safety concerns. Every diver is a dive safety officer when it comes to the safety of his/her self and others. If entries are too dangerous, another route must be planned. If the water quality is too poor and dry suits are not available, the team must decide not to dive. No item, weapon, or remains, is worth the life of a healthy public safety diver. All divers accept risks when they choose to entertain the sport of scuba diving. Despite this, a team or dive organization must remember that liability is a constant issue when the safety of others is in question. The reality is that a team and its members must determine what level of risk they consider to be safe (following historical and data-based guidance), and work together to not violate this limitation. Finding a missing item is a success for any dive team, but the family members of an injured diver may not recognize any level of success over the injury.
Having the Right Equipment
Finally, a dive team must have and maintain proper equipment for the missions in which the team may choose to participate. ERDI divers are taught that all dives should be considered to involve contaminated water unless definitive proof shows otherwise. This education suggests that divers operating within public safety parameters should be fully encapsulated with dry suits, fitted and attached hoods, full-face masks, and attached gloves and boots. The equipment used by dive team members should also be standardized to ensure that every team member knows where items are placed and how to assist one-another during an emergency. Similarly, a diver should never be required to bail out of his or her mask if at all possible. For this reason, switch blocks become essential to allow a diver to switch to backup gasses as needed. The lines used to connect divers to tenders must be sturdy and rated to handle contact with sharp objects underwater. In regard to secondary search equipment, metal detectors or sonars can reduce search times, decontamination equipment ensures a higher level of individual safety, and even items like cylinder stands can ensure increased comfort and safety when dealing with diver exhaustion during decontamination.
A dive team must be prepared to provide to its divers the equipment that they need. Once this equipment is possessed, it must be maintained and serviced on a regular basis. When equipment is subjected to the worst possible environments, service is critical to prevent possible failures.
If a dive team seeks to understand its operational environment, maintains proper equipment, and ensures the benefits of an operation outweigh the risks, that team is more likely to experience success and higher levels of diver safety. Safety should be the first concern of any dive team. No operation is worth the lives of team members, and the risks associated with public safety dive operations must always be recognized and monitored to the highest degree possible.
-Dr. Thomas W. Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Dive 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
by Thomas Powell:
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.
Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba
by Patrick S. O’Boyle:
It’s too often that many of us on public safety dive teams as third (3rd) responders arrive well into rescue operations associated with a submerged incident. Those who are part of integrated municipal departments may not face the same issues since they are part of the first alert, and are part of the first arriving assets to a scene. The management of the “crime scene” needs to be addressed from the dive team perspective, either by the third party agency or an integrated municipal department. This scene management needs to be part of any team’s training regimen.
Without argument, many existing public safety dive teams are volunteers that serve the community very well, either as part of local volunteer fire departments, independent teams of trained public safety divers, rescue squads, or search and recovery teams. Law enforcement dive teams are a large part of the public safety dive team service, and have a strong understanding of this type of crime scene management. In recent months I have worked with sheriffs’ departments on missions and drills and they have agreed – further work is needed among dive teams of all types.
Not long ago, I was asked to critique a Dive Team Challenge hosted by a local law enforcement agency and the dive team support they receive from a third party agency.
A camp scene at the lake, two males, one female, a copious quantity of adult beverages, campfire, tent and outdoor gear, and a remote off-road location adjacent to hiking trails. The sun rose the following day and a group of hikers came across the body of the female in the woods. Law enforcement was called and excellent crime scene management protocols were followed. The camp site was found, with a male sleeping off the night’s consumption of alcohol, some scratches and blood noted upon his person. When detained and questioned, he admitted to killing his two camping mates, one in the woods, and the other in the lake. The local dive team was activated.
Upon arrival of the dive team, they were told to remain clear of both the campsite and the trail to the woods. I watched the boats enter the water, the sonar equipment get activated, gear being assembled, secondary gear being staged, and a full briefing with diver and tender assignments at the edge of the lake just adjacent to the campsite. No scene management was established by the dive team.
I stopped the drill and called the investigating officer and the dive team leader to the observation area. “Is anything wrong so far with this operation?” I asked. I was told by the dive team leader that EMS was called to start medical clearance. This was a good answer but not the one I was looking for (that should have been done at activation). The investigator stated he called for more LEO help. Okay, good again, but not correct. To trigger some previous training that each of these responders is required to have, I used the word HAZMAT. Okay, homerun. They immediately removed the gear, divers, staging, and created a warm zone and hot zones, logs and personnel times, separate entrance/exit areas, and a command structure was implemented.
My point is that we are part of the evidence chain. At times we may need to prompt the agencies already on scene. In my region, the Sheriff’s Department is the command agency on subsurface rescue and recovery. Local first responders arriving first may be operations, and then we set up a dive branch and dive operations. These are all typical NIMS protocols. When operating in rescue mode, these issues are different, but we operate with the Sheriff’s Department and until proven otherwise, consider it as a crime scene, or at least a potential crime scene.
In rescue mode, save the life and operate safely. Once time and conditions change, and the determination to switch to recovery mode is made, step back, consider potential crime scene applications and work with the command structure to contain the scene.
- Create your own warm and hot zone depending on operations (land vs. boat).
- Have a dive team member become your scribe, document all activity.
- Request a LEO liaison to be with dive team leader/operations.
- Operate under your training and protocol; you are in charge of the dive.
- Take the ERDI Crime Scene Investigation course!
On my team, we recover the victim subsurface in an approved body bag. We also take soil and water samples using sealable laboratory 30ml vials and place them into the body bag. We have received many compliments from crime scene investigators for this little action. They are always impressed. This takes me to another point, if we can impress a crime scene investigator we can take it further.
I am currently working with ERDI Training and the North Carolina Medical Examiner on a medical examiner-approved diver course that will be reviewed in the coming weeks. My goal is to have this available to all teams and delivered by medical examiners and ERDI instructor trainers so that all the effort of our public safety dive teams will be vertically integrated into state Chief Medical Examiner’s Offices and have them influence our protocols. So far it has been received with excitement and a cooperative spirit from each of the states I have contacted. The end result of all subsurface recovery has the strong potential to be an ME case. Let us bring them into our service and work with them as partners so that they see the valuable work we do. It can only make us better teams and servants of the community.
Look for this specialty course in the very near future. I thank ERDI Training, the Medical Examiner’s Office, and Air Hogs Scuba of Garner N.C. for their guidance and assistance getting this to our public safety dive professionals, either paid or volunteer. For my goal is to make us all professionals in our service.
The first step of any dive team is to understand that crime scene management is critical. ERDI takes great effort to provide proper documentation and scene management paperwork to any dive team operating under ERDI training programs. The ERDI Crime Scene Investigation course is the first step toward learning how to secure an operational scene and maintain evidentiary security. Education is the key to operational success and any dive team can do well by partaking in this scene management program.
Patrick S. O’Boyle
APP, Paramedic, DMT, FEMA Medical Specialist, Dive Team Captain, Public Safety DM, NC Death Investigator