The goal of a public safety diver is to save lives without losing one of their own. We can all agree that working in public safety is no joke. It’s a job that takes a lot of physical and mental training. While public safety officers are expected to do their jobs but are often to be left thankless when a life is lost.
Many Public Safety Divers take issue with their full face masks from time to time. We get it, equipment can fail, but are you taking the proper precautions to makes sure you’re not hurrying along this process?
There are 91 pages in the OSHA diving directive that address diving standards and we concentrated on one paragraph that is in the Appendix. Is it any wonder we missed something?
by Mark Phillips:
War is one of mankind’s greatest failings and perhaps one of the greatest instigators of invention.
In war men fight. Ships sink. When men learned how to extend their time underwater to salvage sunken vessels it was their nature to consider the concept of an underwater warrior. Those soldiers would have to be comfortable in most any condition of water. They would have to be able to swim great distances and still have the strength and stamina to carry out their mission and still escape unharmed.
They would need specialized breathing equipment that would allow them to breathe underwater. In order for the apparatus to allow for long range penetration of enemy held areas, it had to reuse the exhaled breath of the diver while preventing exhaust bubbles from escaping and giving away the position of the diver. It had to offer extended time underwater, be light weight, versatile and dependable. It had to be a rebreather.
On the morning of June 6, 1944, Operation Overlord commenced. It was an event like none other and was divided into many parts, each of which had to work with the others to be successful. It was also the beginning of Operation Neptune and began the invasion of France at Normandy. It was D-Day. It was the largest amphibious invasion in world history.
Those landing from water were to land on one of five beaches code named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The hard thing about such an invasion is that it is hard to hide. When those occupying the land do not wish to be invaded, they resist.
Fortifications, hedgehogs, steel and concrete spikes, some steel tetrahedral, mines and other hazards had been placed on the beaches and in the water. Guns were placed on heavily fortified bunkers perched on the hillsides. Fortified machine gun nests had overlapping fields of fire. And the guns of Pointe Du Hoc could rain down hell on both Utah and Omaha beaches and sink vessels at sea 15 miles out.
Before the landing craft could land the fortifications blocking their way had to be destroyed. Naval demolition teams were responsible for those obstacles underwater and the Army engineers above water. But plans never quite work out the way they are supposed to.
The weather changed. Conditions worsened but once started Operation Overlord could not stop. The degrading weather cost them time and high tide was missed. Because the tide was out when the demolition teams made it to their objectives, most of the obstacles were out of the water. The naval group took those seaward while the army teams placed explosives on those closer to land. On D-Day, they were not all referred to as frogmen. Those from the Royal Navy were Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance Units. More commonly called Lockyews.
|Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance Units
The ‘LCOCUs’ were a vital part of the D-Day invasion forces in Normandy. Four Royal Navy and six Royal Marines units comprising 120 divers wore newly developed neoprene suits with ‘blast proof’ kapok jackets underneath, helmets, breathing apparatus and fins.They laid the foundations for the Very Shallow Water (VSW) and beach clearance techniques in use today.Those remaining after the war were eventually incorporated into the Clearance Diving Branch.
A RN demolitions team was working Gold beach. When they arrived, they found that the obstacles they were to clear were underwater. Each of the hedgehogs they were to clear had to have 36 small charges placed at strategic positions so that the steel would blow into pieces with none more than 18 inches above the bottom. Each of these obstacles was covered with pressure sensitive explosives designed to punch holes in water craft.
Lt. Hargreaves described the experience:
“We must have been about four hundred yards from the beach when the firing first started, and they didn’t forget to inform us that they knew we were coming. When we finally got on the beach we discovered that we were being systematically sniped, not only with rifles but also by odd bursts of machine-gun fire – a most unpleasant experience”.
On another beach one of the men described his experience like this:
“We were spotted from a tower ashore and were subjected to pretty heavy mortar fire during which a petty officer was killed and two men were wounded. Later the R.A.F. blotted out the tower and things were more comfortable although shells still kept coming over. One shell destroyed our breathing apparatus, which we had not been using as the tide was low. When the water came up later, Leading Seaman A. Robertson and myself tried staying underwater by holding our breath. We blew about fifteen obstacles in this way, but we couldn’t keep it up. We carried on the next morning, after sleeping in a R.A.F. crater, where incidentally we were subjected to fire from an 88mm gun.”
Dennis Shryock was 21 years old when he landed on Utah Beach. Dennis had been trained as an explosives specialist and one of those elite men who were the forerunners of our modern day Navy Seals.
The machinegun fire was deadly. They did not have the protection of being underwater and had to wade to each of the obstructions to place explosives. He said the water “looked like pure blood.” But they did the job.
According to navy statistics, at Utah, the demolition teams lost six men and had eleven wounded. Omaha beach did not fare as well. They lost thirty-one and another sixty were wounded.
|Pointe Du Hoc
The water was rough from the stormy wind and the unexpected rain soaked equipment that was intended to remain dry. It took the landing craft longer to reach the beaches than expected. The plan was to hit the beaches at high tide; for the troops to be able to take shelter in the bomb craters as they made their way up the beaches. But they missed high tide. Most of the obstacles placed to keep the landing craft away were on dry land. When they were able to land, the troops had to run through wet sand 300 to 500 yards just to get to the bomb craters. Landing craft that had been fortified with bullet proof plating caused the crafts to ride much lower in the water. Too many of them were swamped and sunk before they could reach shore. The majority of the soldiers on board, weighted by 70 pound of equipment, drowned. Those that survived had to face a wall of bullets and artillery shells. The guns at Pointe Du Hoc had to be taken. The 2nd Ranger Battalion had trained hard in preparation for this day. They had practiced climbing cliffs and had brought along firefighting ladders and rocket propelled grappling hooks to help make the 100 foot climb. But it had rained.The ropes were wet and the propellant used was calculated with dry rope. The ladders were hard to foot and difficult to climb. German machinegun fire was held to a minimum by sharpshooters on the ground but they could not stop them from dropping hand grenades in an effort to keep them from climbing. The 2nd Ranger Battalion clawed their way to the top using footholds in the mud and rocks and bayonets driven into the cliff side when necessary. It took them twenty minutes to make the climb and take the Pointe. They held it for two more days before reinforcements reached them. Of the 200 men that started, only 90 were left in fighting condition.
What exactly was the breathing apparatus used by the USN frogmen and the Royal Navy Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance Units? It was able to supply an extended amount of breathing gas underwater by reusing the exhaled breathe of the diver. It did not allow exhaust bubbles to escape and was stealthy. It was lightweight and maneuverable. It was a rebreather.
While only remotely similar to rebreather units today, the ones used in 1944 were many generations of development old. In fact, the Italians started the concept of underwater assault teams using specialized equipment. And they recognized the need as early as World War 1.
In 1918 two members of the Regia Marina (Royal Navy) literally rode a torpedo into a harbor and sank an enemy ship. At the time, they had no breathing equipment and had to guide the torpedo at the surface in order to breath. They sank the ship but were captured when they tried to swim away. These human torpedoes became more like mini submarines and were human guided. Obviously the ability to be under the water, able to breath and stay stealthy was an advantage.
By 1941 the Italian navy had both a surface unit that operated fast, explosive motor boats and a subsurface unit that used manned torpedoes. Within this group they also had assault swimmers. It did not take long before other countries developed their own versions.
The idea of an underwater warrior is older than modern history. The functional ability to use such a warrior has always been limited by the inability to breath underwater. Throughout history, man has found ways to extend his time underwater and by the turn of the 20th century, some of the first closed circuit rebreather systems had been experimented with and used. The rebreather units used on D-Day were rudimentary compared to the modern versions we see today. But at the time, they did the job and those who used them had to be beyond courageous.
On June 6, 1944 those underwater warriors had a mission to do and short of being killed or captured, that is what they did.
Mark Phillips is a retired 33 year career firefighter and Public Safety Diver; A Master Scuba Instructor an ERDI trainer, and Publisher of PSDiver Monthly, an Internet magazine dedicated to advancing the safety and knowledge of the Underwater Investigator.
By Mark Phillips
A family of 3 is murdered. The killer eludes the police and manages to get rid of the weapon used by tossing it off of a bridge. A suspect is eventually apprehended and he confesses to the crime and describes where the weapon is…
A severely depressed mother of newborn twins decides she can no longer cope with her life and the stresses of motherhood. She drives to a local lake and parks in front of the boat ramp. Summing up what determination she has left, she takes a number of pills and swallows them down with a quart of vodka. When she begins to feel the effects of the combination of chemicals, she puts her car in gear and floors the accelerator. The car floats 75 yards or so and sinks to the bottom with her and her two children still strapped into their car seats in the back seat.
A carjacker is spotted by local police and they begin a high speed pursuit in the middle of the night. The carjacker loses control of the vehicle and slams into a hundred year old oak tree. He survives the impact and manages to run into the darkness. The police are right behind him and begin a foot chase. He runs into a park pond and attempts to swim away from pursuit. The police watch him without giving chase. He makes it about half way before he tires and realizes he cannot make it to the far shore – or any shore. As he screams for help one of the police officers begins stripping off his gear with the intention of attempting a rescue but before he even gets his gear off, the suspect vanishes underwater.
What do these three events have in common?
Someone is going to go underwater and make a recovery.
When the dive team is called out, the team functions like a machine: every move choreographed and efficient while working out the details of the event and planning the dive. When it begins, it is not the diver or even the scene officer who is the conductor of the dive, it is the Line Tender.
The functions on scene and job requirements may include scene management, Incident Command, Recorder, or more. It is possible to run a dive mission with 4 team members but they must be very good at what they do and capable of working at ANY position required.
There must be at least 4 team members on site to function within acceptable safety margins for a typical dive team. The 4 team members will be identified as Primary Diver, Backup Diver, Safety Diver and Line Tender. These 4 team members must be able and CAPABLE divers – capable of diving on this mission.
Once a location is determined, a pattern agreed upon and the backup diver is ready, the primary diver and line tender can begin their search. The other team member(s) can continue to dress or gather information etc.
The line tender maintains contact with the diver at all times via either a tethered line or umbilical. Through this contact the line tender is able to communicate with the diver and direct him efficiently through the water even if the diver is in zero visibility. The diver has little to do other than maintain a taut line and execute the instructions sent by the line tender while performing his search.
But like any conductor, the line tender is only as good as the people working with him. Someone has to manage the other aspects of the dive. Each team member functions in his assigned position. Each position supports another and together they form a consolidated group centered on the line tender.
Take any single part out of the equation and the mission will likely fail. While it is possible to consolidate jobs, the line tender has many responsibilities including keeping the diver safe, defining the search area, managing the search pattern, recognizing breathing patterns of the diver and knowing when something has changed. The line tender must manage the line tethered to the diver and work to prevent entanglements and note their locations. If an emergency erupts, it is the line tender that makes the announcement and launches the backup diver.
But without proper training, repetition and experience the position of line tender seems to sometimes get less attention in training or importance than it should. Every team member should be trained and capable of functioning at each position during a dive mission. The diver gets a lot of attention because it is the diver who is the most at risk. But it is the line tender that manages the diver, runs the pattern and is tasked with keeping the diver as safe as possible.
When was the last time your team focused on the line tender position as the primary training topic? When was the last time you were a line tender? If the diver gives you four tugs, do you know what it means? If the line goes slack – what do you do? If the diver finds what he is looking for, then what? Practice as a team and practice each position.
Before the dive, at a minimum the tender should:
- Assist the diver don equipment
- Record beginning pressure and verify all equipment is functioning properly.
- Establish a minimum PSI
- Establish maximum depth
- Establish maximum bottom time.
- Review line signals
- Review procedure for diver in distress.
- Review procedure for “Object Found”.
Teamwork, cooperation and communication make for a successful dive mission.
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Most Public Safety Divers (PSDs) are involved in some part of Emergency Services; Fire, LE, ALS or BLS. When working for emergency services, we use PPE on every call we make. If we see a person fall off their bicycle, we think nothing about putting on a pair of gloves before we touch them. If we need to enter a structure that is on fire, we automatically don our bunker gear. A police officer puts on a bullet proof vest with the same casualness he puts on a t-shirt. Each of them use PPE every day with no thought or effort; it is not only expected, it is required.
Dry suits tend to be looked upon as a protective tool against cold. They offer thermal protection and are used by the recreational and PSD diving communities for that reason.
Recreational divers using dry suits typically dive in cold water environments up to and including ice conditions. As a practice and objective of diving, they almost always stay within the borders in the water column. Public Safety Divers as a rule, do not.
Public Safety Divers are in the water to locate something. If that something was floating, we would not need divers. Public Safety Divers tend to dive ON the bottom, not within the water column. On the bottom is sediment.
Sediment is naturally occurring and consists of a variety of most everything that water touches or is touched by water. It is material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of water. Thus, it includes chemicals, minerals and metals that are not water soluble and have a specific gravity greater than water sink and come to rest in sediment.
Petroleum products are not water soluble. Dioxins are much heavier than water and not water-soluble. Agent Orange is not water soluble. Minerals and metals are heavier than water and are not water soluble. Mercury sinks. Chlorobenzenes are not water soluble and the amount of chlorobenzene in sediment may be 1000 times higher than that of the surrounding water. Which would you want to rub into unprotected?
It does not matter what chemical, mineral or metal we name as a contaminate. If it is in the sediment, it is where PSDs dive. If ANY of those chemicals were spilled on dry land, is there ANY Emergency First Response Department that would allow ANY of their employees to mitigate the hazard WITHOUT PROPER PPE?
If your dive team is using dry suits for thermal protection only, or your team does not see the need for dry suits, then you are lacking the proper awareness of PPE for the job. This would be the equivalent of a Haz-Mat team responding to a chemical spill and dressing in jeans and t-shirts. You probably ask for Dry Suits in your budget requests instead of PPE gear for your divers.
We concern ourselves with contaminated water and never consider that the work and diving that we do is not in the water, but rather in the sediment layer under the water. Until we recognize the potential hazards and likely exposures to ourselves and our dive team members, we are accepting the ridiculous idea that firefighters do not need bunker gear, police officers do not need Kevlar vests and paramedics do not need latex gloves.
Dry Suits = Personal Protective Equipment. It is time for us to accept that and work towards better protecting ourselves and our dive teams.
About the Author
Mark is a 32 year career firefighter and has been an active diver since 1979. Mark holds instructor credentials from 5 scuba agencies and specializes in Underwater Crime Scene Investigation. He has taught from Hawaii to North Carolina and been a consultant for numerous organizations, institutions and manufacturers in the field of Public Safety Diving. He is the author of PSDiver – A Textbook for Public Safety Diving and the Editor / Publisher of the free E-Zine, PSDiver Monthly. He is also a member of International Training’s Training Advisory Panel.
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