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Why I’m Passionate About Public Safety Diving

By: Kate Heller

Public safety diving may not be the first thing you think about when you hear “scuba diving”. Typically, many will think about seeing sharks and beautiful corals — the pretty and adventurous side of the sport. Others will think about diving in caves or wrecks — the beautifully historic side. Only a few will consider the detective and, in some cases, dangerous side of diving that is public safety diving.

I know when I started my diving career I hadn’t considered it. I became more interested in it when I began working at a dive shop. The store mostly handled the public safety divers. Being able to meet some of the men and women who trained to be PSDs and hear their stories about why they wanted to join the dive team got me hooked on learning more about it. I learned a ton about ERDI and gained so much respect for the divers on the dive teams. Their work ethic, dedication, commitment, selflessness, and training amazed me.

Although military, firemen and police personnel have earned names such as “Bulls in China Shops,” when they go through their training they earn a different title. To family and friends, they earn the name Hero and to colleagues, Brother or Sister. They earn these names through their training, dedication, and the real-life scenarios they are put in.

For a recreational scuba diver, we experience dark water that we overcome with lights. ERDI public safety divers train in true black water, where everything must be done by feel. Imagine trying to find a weapon used in a crime or in the unfortunate case, a body in black water using only feel.

Sounds very CSI, right? Though it may sound like it, and in ways it is, it’s also quite dangerous for them. TV shows such as CSI show crimes being solved in just an hour with minimal harm to the diver. The water that they dive in could be and probably is polluted adding another risk to consider. What they do not show ever is the decontamination process that PSDs must go through after a dive. In cases of black water, they are subject to entanglement as well as cuts. If the water is polluted and considered black water then they risk infection, as well as not being able to get out of the entanglement.

It is their dedication to training that sets them apart from the rest.

Nowadays when people do a selfless act they are praised on multiple forms of media. The ones who sometimes go unnoticed are the people in the military, fire departments, and police departments. They put themselves in harm’s way each day without fail. Having family members and friends who have served in either one of these professions allows us to appreciate their work ethic and time spent with them more.

I was able to speak with members of a fire departments dive team that expressed the difficulty of having to balance working long shifts and making time for family. Aside from working in the department and going on calls for a fire, they also need to make time to train for the dive team. Though to some, it’s part of the job, to them and their families, it’s time away. Though they may not go on a call for a while, they do need to keep up with their training to make sure that when the time comes they are ready for whatever comes the team’s way.

Commitment

Abraham Lincoln said, “Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality.” Staying committed to the job, keeping people safe and helping to solve crimes is what every fireman, police officer, and military personnel do. In a dive team setting they are committed to their team and training to help each other get the job efficiently and with as little risk as possible.

I once talked to a couple firemen who said they were able to know what the other member of their team was going to do before needing a signal. They said it was due to the commitment to the team and to the job that they were able to learn the team members and their mentality on the job. In a course like ice diving and tender ops, divers need that teamwork mentality. They have one method of communication from the person on the surface to the one under the ice: a line.

Having participated in a mock ice diver class, I remember having a few difficulties with miscommunication. For our pool work, I was on the surface and my diver was under water. I noticed that if I felt like they tugged — or if I missed a tug — then, in a real-life situation a mistake like that would have been detrimental to not only the dive but the diver’s well-being. Though a classroom setting with a controlled environment such as a pool, the consequences are minimal, it was real enough that I recognized the difficulty and the commitment team members would need to have to really know their team.

Before working in the dive shop and really being introduced to ERDI public safety diving, I never truly understood the level of diving that the divers needed to do. At the time, I only knew that the dives they were executing were beyond my training level. Once I was given the chance to work with them and talk with them I understood the depths of their training and what it really entailed. I was able to appreciate their work and their commitment more than before.

Public safety diving — let alone public safety work — may not be for everyone. For those who choose to be a part of the public safety team, they deserve the utmost respect and recognition for the good that they do.

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