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Why We Love FFM (and Why You Should Too)

Dr. Thomas Powell
erdi ffm diverThe modern scuba world is one of excitement, adventure, exploration, and enjoyment. Every day people take to the water to see new things or enjoy a different environment from the norm. Despite this trend, there are a select few individuals who choose to dive in order to serve their communities. These divers are willing to get wet despite harsh conditions, limited or no visibility, and dangerous environments. Essentially, when a truck containing hazardous materials experiences an accident in the middle of a snowy winter night, there are people out there who are willing to attempt to rescue or recover the driver. These problematic diving conditions suggest that public safety divers must work to remain safe and protected as much as possible. One of the primary items that can add to a public safety diver’s protection is the full face mask. Within the public safety diving community, full face masks have largely replaced the standard recreational scuba mask in both training and operational settings. The following factors suggest why all public safety divers should love the full face mask and seek to utilize them to improve safety and operational capabilities.

 

  • Encapsulation

 

 

      First, the full face mask is an item that allows for the encapsulation of a diver’s face. If worn with a latex hood, the head and the soft tissues around the mouth, nose, and eyes will be protected. On those difficult days when a diver must submerge into unknown conditions and potentially hazardous materials, the chance of injury or ailment is reduced. This factor can provide protection from chemical contaminants, hazardous biological materials, and even cold. Similarly, fitting attachments such as spider straps ensure that a full face mask can be securely attached to the head of a diver and remain more secure when compared to a traditional mask with a single strap. The fact that a diver’s head is better protected can help to improve confidence, capability, and even response time.

 

  • Improved Field of Vision

Second, the full face mask provides an increased field of vision when compared to a traditional scuba mask. The large lens structure found in many full face units provides a wider, clear surface area than traditional masks, and therefore improved visual capability. In most scenarios, public safety divers may not have the luxury of clear, high-visibility water, but when an individual does have the ability to see, the greater the field of vision, the better a diver can search or make observations.

 

 

  • Communications

Perhaps more important than anything, full face mask units provide a resource that has not always been available to the public safety diving community. In years past, divers have relied on rope, hand, or tactile signals. Communications systems found in full face masks allow divers to communicate to not only other divers, but to the surface support team during an operation. This factor allows for complete discussion relating to scenarios, the provision of guidance, and the possibility of improved recognition during problem situations.

 

 

  • Breathability

Finally, a full face mask allows for unique and improved breathability. Essentially, a diver can breathe from his or her nose. During intense or difficult scenarios, a diver on a full face mask unit can take deep breaths through both the mouth and nose into the lungs. This factor can improve the ability to relax and remain calm during problematic situations.

 

The full face mask is a unique tool for any public safety diver. It allows a diver to communicate, gain improved visibility, and protect soft tissues. There is no reason that a public safety dive team should not use, care for, and promote the use of full face mask units in operational settings and training environments. A resource of this type can help to protect the life of an individual who works to assist others. Programs such as the ERDI Full Face Mask Operations Course can help any dive team learn to better utilize and employ full face mask units during operational activities.

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

2 replies
  1. Robert Cutcher
    Robert Cutcher says:

    While I agree with most of the listed advantages of a FFM in specific situations, the article did not address factors that an individual and/or team members must consider when using them. There are several fundiment differences between an FFM and conventional mask:
    1. Gas consumption – FFM typically increase gas consumption by a considerable amount. If using two-way comm with other divers or surface tender, the RMV increase may result in needing to carry additional gas to perform specific task. It would be incorrect to use RMV values from a conventional mask/ second stage for a FFM.
    2. WOB – due to the use of oral nasal pockets and check valves in FFM, the WOB is considerably higher than most second stages. This can further increase gas consumption due to perceived stress by the diver in what can already be a stressful situation during rescue operations. Gas planning is critical and the higher WOB must be considered.
    3. Gas sharing – use of an FFM prevents the conventional method of gas sharing associated with a primary long hose configuration. Although a backup second stage can be worn on a necklace in the similar manner as the DIR approach, the LP hose length would greatly limit gas sharing to an OOA individual. For this reason, a detachable gas supply and regulator should be carried by each team member in addition to the necklace regulator. This allows the S&R diver to hand off the backup gas supply to the OOA individual without encumbrance.
    4. Backup mask/switch block/necklace reg – since an FFM prevents switching regs while the mask is being worn, the diver is required to carry a backup mask that would be used when switching to their necklace reg. Many divers prefer to use a gas switch block that allows them to use a seperate gas supply in the event of a loss of primary gas supply. This however does not address any problems with the FFM regulator and does not constitute a truly independent gas supply and regulator.

    In summary, a FFM is a useful tool that has several advantages over a conventional mask and second stage but require additional gas planning and management considerations. Individual and team members should have receive training in their use before using them in S&R or working operations.

    Reply
  2. John
    John says:

    All public safety dive teams should be trained on commercial grade, surface supplied equipment. It is the safest and most effective form of diving for these kinds of operations. It can be deployed just as quick if not quicker than scuba. I do not understand from a safety standpoint why scuba would ever be taught or used for this. Get a cascade system, get some umbilicals, get a rack, and get some Kirby Morgan helmets or bandmasks even. Then get some people who have spent some time in the commercial industry to train with. If you do this, your team will wonder what the heck they were thinking using scuba.

    Reply

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