Joining a public safety team of any type can be an exciting new experience for someone. You have committed yourself to helping others. Hours of training, hazing from peers, and the support you have garnered from loved ones may all come rushing to the front of your mind when you get that first call to action. For a diver, things are just like any other public safety organization. Eventually, you will be asked to use the skills you have been taught to provide aid in some fashion. Your first call may be a recovery, an evidentiary search, or even a support operation for another organization. No matter what, you will get some butterflies in your stomach and the thrill of a real world mission cannot cloud your need to remain a responsible team member.
You are not Superman!
First, you must remember that you are not Superman. Although we all feel bulletproof after hours of training and repeated skills practice, during a real mission we often do not have the comforts of controlled observation, or the calm waters found in a swimming pool. Dive team operations must be planned, organized, and methodical. If you arrive on scene and take on every task as a personal mission, you will tire yourself. As a diver, you must trust your teammates to work with you to prepare the scene, stage equipment, and entertain dive operations in a fashion that protects all associated parties. No one individual can perform every task on an operational scene. Take your time, trust your teammates, and be methodical while working as a unit.
Take your time!
The majority of public safety dive operations do not maintain tight time restrictions. The reality is that in most cases, a dive team has been called to perform a search because all other options have failed. When human life is not on the line, there is no reason to take extraneous risks. Rushing through tasks and making hurried decisions can lead to injury or failure. When you arrive on a scene, take your time to walk through procedures and prepare for the operation. Once divers enter the water, there is no race associated with public safety diving. Take your time and make sure you and your teammates accomplish the mission you have been called to perform.
For any of you who have spent time underwater in a blacked out environment, you know that we all “battle dragons” of some type. As a diver, you may be asked to feel along the bottom in an environment with zero visibility. Fear, worry, and our imaginations can get the best of us during times such as these. With every arm sweep, you may be thinking of every monster you have ever seen in a movie or read about in a novel. The truth is that this is something you must face. We all have concerns when the lights go out and we cannot see. As a diver, you must first stop and collect your thoughts. Remember that you have a mission and you are in the water for a reason. Take the time to slow your breathing and communicate with your tender. Your tender is your lifeline and in the world of subsurface communications, he or she can talk you down and help you relax. Once you have collected yourself, begin your search. If you just cannot bring yourself to remain calm and perform a proper search, do not risk running a bad pattern. Inform your tender and exit the water so a new diver can take over. There is always tomorrow, and in some cases, black water diving is just not for everyone.
Listen to those who have been there and done that!
In almost every activity we take on, there are always “old hats” who have been doing the same things for a long time. These individuals have seen how to be successful, watched what worked on a scene, and have stuck around over the years. When you arrive on a scene, watch what these team members do. There are likely tried and true actions that have helped them to find success. When your mission is over, speak to these team members. Find out what they do different and why. Experience is one of the best ways to learn. These team members will also have great experience with problematic situations. We often can learn more from failure than we can from success. Take the time to learn from the men and woman who have a greater level of experience. It never hurts to figure out what has worked in the past.
There is always something to learn.
If you are lost, confused, or do not understand what is going on, step out of the way. Provide assistance where you can but do not interfere if it may cause a problem or disruption. It is OK to be overwhelmed and confused when the chaotic world of an operational scene plays out before you. You have to get your bearings, get your mind right, and figure out how to be a supportive player on scene. Things are never perfect in your first operational moment. Again, just slow yourself down and play a supportive role for your team.
Finally, remember that safety is paramount to all other factors during a dive operation. Do not show up on a scene feeling like you have to prove something just because you are a new team member. Take the time to learn what is going on, and how best to work with your teammates. They need to be able to trust you when they are in the water, and you must be able to trust them. If you witness unsafe acts, call them out to team members. Protect yourself and others, while working to accomplish your mission.
Being called to your first operational scene can be a hectic and stressful time for any dive team member. Just remember that every team member goes through a similar experience. You simply need to relax and slow yourself down. Work to accomplish your mission while providing support and care for your teammates. You will become stressed, so watch what others do and take the time to learn. More than anything, stay safe and watch out for your teammates. In time, you will be more comfortable and you will become one of those “old hats” comfortable with operational procedures.
– Thomas Powell – Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC
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