Table of Contents

Hey Sport

Butch Hendrick

I was thinking that if I could find the time I would like to take a sport fire fighter course, down at the local fire store. And then I might be able to take a sport confined space or HAZMAT course.
Experience Counts
What does the local dive store know about managing a search dive operation?
"Okay, but we are firefighters, we already know how to manage a scene."
"We are police, once we are dive certified we will know how to do the rest."
Many a water operation scene has proved that to be not true. Just as an experienced Police Chief would not be capable of safely running a HAZMAT scene without HAZMAT knowledge or a sufficient advisor, a HAZMAT trained Fire Chief would not know how to make sure a dive operation runs effectively and safely. Each discipline has its own science and requirements.

After a little chuckle, we all know that those statements are a bit far fetched. You cannot really go down to the local fire store and enroll in a fire rescue course. You cannot go to the local confined space, HAZMAT, or extraction stores to learn the trade of fire and rescue. The training, equipment, maintenance, just the basic mathematics of fire and rescue can be overwhelming.

Why then do we find fire, police, and rescue teams all over the country having had a sport diving scuba course thinking they are ready to enter the often-deadly waters of public safety diving, rescue and recovery. Perhaps it is a little like the good news and bad news concepts.

The good news, most anywhere in the country you can go down the street and learn how to sport dive and purchase sport diving equipment. You have a place to begin.

The bad news, you are public safety divers, not sport divers and very often sport diving training and equipment are not specific to your needs. They are only a good place to begin, a place to learn the basics.

Blacked Out
Recreational entry level, advanced, rescue diver, recreational technical, or even instructor classes do not address any of the specific needs of the bottom-dwelling, blackwater PSD diver. Who said duct tape wasn't our best friend?

Far to often trainers hear from students, "we are certified divers we have had the sport diving rescue course." Again, it is a good place to begin but what did it do for you as a public safety diver or water related responder? Putting things in perspective, a sport certified diver is like a fire fighter directly out of school, they simply have the basics needed to get started. You do not call BLS when you require ALS, you certainly do not call first aid instructors when you need EMTs. Think about it, would you call a volunteer fire department to assist in a fire at the World Trade Center on the 30th floor. Even though they might be a really fine fire company, most likely not.

Tech Diving Don't make the mistake that many teams have - PSD , like commercial diving, is technical but it is NOT recreational technical diving. Other than the use of pony bottles, full-face masks, and better dive planning, rec-tech diving has as little to do with PSD as does sport diving. Rec-tech divers dive when and where they want in typically better than 1/2 inch of visibility. They free swim in midwater. They do not have to document every square foot they move. They are not searchers.

Bring your own wet suit! A recent flyer for a contaminated water (HAZMAT) diving course read, bring your own wet suit! Think about that, it is like asking a fire fighter to bring a old set of coveralls to a HAZMAT course. Why would anyone even dream of entering contaminated water with a wet suit? Yet, public safety divers do it all the time both knowingly and unknowingly. Like land HAZMAT there are specific dry suits, gloves, and full-face masks needed to totally encapsulate the diver for the job at hand. Not every dry suit is contamination capable, or are all full-face masks. You would not purchase land HAZMAT protection without extensive research, yet many purchase dry dive gear with no contamination research at all, or worse in the name of rescue enter a contaminated water site in a wet suit. We see diver after diver in photographs in possible contaminated water sites with no mask on or even worse using snorkels, a direct access to contamination.

HAZMAT An experienced police diver recently told us that on several occasions he experienced diarrhea and stomach problems after diving in a river with known sewage problems. The department refuses to purchase full-face masks or dry suits. If the divers push the issue the department threatens to shut the dive team down and let the State Police handle the dives. This sadly is not an uncommon scenario. The fact that the team started with sport diving gear goes back to the subject of this article. In fact some departments SWAT team's would never have been started without body armor. At minimum divers should wear HAZMAT tested dry suits, full-face masks, dry gloves, and hood.

Winter adventure! Sport divers often enjoy the adventure of ice diving. The concept is to make it enjoyable with minimums for ice thickness, warm tents, soup, and they complete the training day before the sun goes down and the temperature drops and every one gets too cold. For public safety divers the real world is that ice diving is an overhead environment most often compounded by confined space tactics since it usually has only one entrance and exit point. There are also environmental concerns like equipment freeze ups and the fact that the human body can only with stand so much cold or reduction in blood flow. NO ICE IS SAFE ICE, if you have been called to the site then that statement about weak or poor ice has already been made. Most of the basic training protocol or standards for ice diving training offer little or no preparation for what the public safety diver is about to encounter.

Unlike sport diving, public safety diver tenders need to be capable of working on thin ice that requires laying down rather than kneeling or standing.

In the real world, there is no 6 inches of ice to stand on; the back-up divers and tenders may be lying on the ice or in the water as well. There may not be an opportunity or area to cut a second hole. Most likely, there has been little or no chance to have dove the site before this real incident call, you may have unknowingly destroyed your egress area, and more often than not ice divers do not have well-organized and trained for self rescue plan. This is the real world, if it can go wrong we all know it will.

Vehicle Extraction! How much time as a fire rescue company do you spend training on auto extraction? Of that time how much time do you spend searching or working in and around a vehicle blacked out, or with the vehicle upside down and no verbal communication. Sure, you have to worry about explosions and twisting metal, but you do not usually have to worry about floating debris or spare tires that can move so fast that they can knock you out. You do not usually worry about being caught and no one can see you or hear you or easily assistance you.

The average rescue team spends hours learning how to use extraction tools on land but thinks nothing of jumping in the water and working around cars and trucks with little or no practice what so ever.

Lifting Sport divers learn to lift small objects with lift buoys in their advanced classes. PSD divers learn how to lift cars or airplanes which involves many concerns the sport divers do not have such as HAZMAT and being crushed by the object. No sport diving lifting classes even come close to sufficing.

Command does not necessarily understand what you learned or did not learn in your basic scuba course nor does the general public. All they know is there is a dive team and it is made up by the strong individuals that take care of us during other tragedies or disasters. You are certified scuba divers and therefor you must know how. Public safety diving operations are no different from other fire and rescue operations they require proper training and preparation. You need to look closer at personal safety and continued education.

Public safety divers need to be capable of performing safe rapid deployment professional motion, dressing comfortably in under 3 minutes. Even strictly recovery teams may face a decision to move in a rescue mode when a team member needs help or when a drowning takes place in the same area where they are already diving for a drill or a recovery operation. Sport diving does not include rapid dressing or the use of tenders. Rapid motion without professional training can lead to disaster. Rapid Dress

We are for the most part sport diver oriented and it is time to change, as we have done with so many other portions of the fire and rescue service in the past few years.

Think and grow.

For related articles:
Technical Public Safety Ice Diving
How a Stationary Vehicle Can Kill You

Table of Contents

For information on how you can help, or how RIPTIDE can help you, please contact us at:
P.O. Box 593
Hurley, NY 12443
tel/fax: (845) 331-3383
Created by Dolphin Diving - copyright 990901