PUBLIC SAFETY DIVING
RECREATIONAL DIVER TO PUBLIC SAFETY DIVER
…the path to advancing and utilizing your skills as a recreational diver in public safety.
Most individuals in public service have a belief that being a Public Safety Diver (PSD) is as easy
as taking a basic Open Water Course, purchasing some Scuba Diving Gear and getting authorization
from their public safety employer, be it a governmental entity, fire or police chief or a sheriff, to be
called “Dive Team” or something close to a representation that they are now Public Safety Divers.
Though this is unfortunately ‘true’ in a majority of cases, in reality, it is farthest from the truth, and
is the foundation for an extremely dangerous environment for all those involved in Public Safety Services
as well as for each individual diver themselves. Think of being a police officer without ever having to
attend a police academy or receiving extensive field training once hired, or, being a fireman, having never
been trained to use a fire hose, drive a fire truck or enter a burning building in effort to save a persons life. This not only creates the most dangerous of environments for you, but also creates a more dangerous situation for those that might have to not only save a victim of a catastrophe but to also have to save ‘improperly trained’ public safety personnel.
We all know that costs, departmental funding and the like are issues that we face in becoming and providing PSD services to our communities. But just like most of us who have to pay for an education, the police academy, fire academy, etc. out of our own pockets, the same usually holds true for those wishing to be Public Safety Divers. Although it would be nice to have our departments pay for our training and gear as well as sanction us as a “Dive Team”, a more logical approach to pursue PSD is to first become a recreational scuba diver on your own. This affords each individual to first ascertain if diving is for you. It provides you the opportunity to see and enjoy what diving is all about, learn and advance your skills, and gradually acquire skills that can be later enhanced through formal PSD training and lends credibility to what you now have to offer to a new or existing Public Safety Dive Team.
To quote Patrix S. Heschel, PSD instructor, PADI Course Director/Instructor Trainer and 18 year member and Commander of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Underwater Response Team, “the lack of standards in training and equipment can be hazardous for divers plus their team members.”
I myself have seen in too many cases, ‘recreational scuba instructors’ teaching an entry level open water scuba course to divers who then go on to call themselves “Public Safety Divers.” Public Safety Diving is essentially “no-visibility diving (blackwater)” and diving which typically is conducted in extremely hazardous conditions. Patrix Heschel says “true no-visibility diving is a very dangerous and complicated dive, and should be undertaken with certain precautions, training, and equipment to safely send every diver home after each time they enter the water.”
Though the path to becoming a truly certified and credentialed Public Safety Diver is long and expensive, it should be undertaken as a personal goal and achievement. Any individual part of a public services organization and interested in Public Safety Diving can start the ball rolling by enrolling in an entry level open water scuba diving course, then continue to advance their skills thru additional training and practice. Meanwhile, an opportunity might exist for you to join an existing Public Safety Dive Team opening the door for additional organized PSD focused training which may include surface support/tenders, land operations, report writing, witness statements and fact gathering, coordination with incident command, and gear readiness.
The following suggestions are a start to 'safely' work towards being a Public Safety Diver. They are both my own and from others notably recognized in Public Safety Diving as well as spelled out and required from organizations known for providing the highest in quality PSD training.
Become a recreational “Open Water (OW) Diver”. An OW diver learns the very basics about diving, gear and equipment types and usage, basic dive fundamentals and dive theory. An OW scuba course primarily teaches a diver how to deal with and recover from various in water emergency situations that might occur while at the same time learning to function and move about under water. The basic equipment required to begin to learn to dive is your own personal snorkel gear; (mask, fins (and boots) and snorkel.) In most cases, all other gear is provided by the instructional facility. The average cost of gear runs $300 and is of the quality to essentially last a lifetime of diving. All entry level OW courses consist of classroom and pool work, ending with skills demonstration in a real open water environment, typically a local quarry. I teach all Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) scuba diving courses from beginner open water thru Divemaster. My typical open water course involves 12hrs classroom and 12hrs pool work, concluding with a weekend at a quarry, where at least 4 dives are performed in open water demonstrating all skills learned in class. A class consisting of public safety personnel may be structured for additional pool time allowing for more thorough mastering of skills and additional rescue related skills and practice. The cost of my recreational open water class is $350, and may be modified slightly for those geared towards PSD, travel and training location considerations.
Mike Berry, author of PADI’s recently revised PSD program states, “A Public Safety Diver learn to master all their basic scuba skills. These skills are your foundation and what you bring into the water with you. Basic scuba skills that are we have and if allowed to fester can become what I call “monsters”. When its deep, cold and dark the monsters tend to show themselves and if you’re not careful, can come out to play”.
As I progressed thru my dive training and in becoming an instructor, I saw and learned how many dive classes were rushed, with the minimum amount of time being afforded to teach skills, let alone time to practice those with proficiency. I have personally seen over the years divers exit with OW certification, Advanced OW training and even Rescue Certifications, yet, barely know how to dive. My goal has always been to learn from these practices and to provide the best possible instruction so that when every diver completes a course I teach, I feel confident in letting them go dive on their own and within the limits and capabilities that they have been taught. Walt “Butch” Hendricks, founder and president of Lifeguard Systems, Inc., has been training PSD teams and rescue personnel for more than 25 years, believes a recreational course should involve at least 15hrs of actual in-water pool time and at least 12-15hrs of classroom time. “If the greater portion of the academic time is spent watching videos, you may want to think twice about enrolling in that course”. This especially holds true for those looking to be Public Safety Divers, thus reinforcement for my own belief that scuba diving training should not have shortcuts to certification and should not be just about handing out certification cards or how many divers I can certify. Divers I teach know how to dive when I certify them.
The next few steps in progressing your scuba diving training would be to complete PADI Advanced Open Water training and PADI Rescue Diver Training, both are pre-requisites to enroll in PSD training classes.
Advanced Open Water (AOW) training involves completing 5 dives in open water which introduce you to specific situations such as deep dives, wreck dives, search and recovery, navigation, photography, etc. These dives are introductions only to each dives respective specialty certification. Class work and dives are all completed onsite at the dive location.
Rescue Diver training involves classroom, pool and open water sessions. Rescue Diver course teaches divers how to handle stress, distressed divers, unconscious diver recovery, emergency rescue breathing, and the like. CPR and BLS certifications are exit requirements for Rescue Diver certification.
Most importantly as a diver progresses thru his training is to practice. Diving, diving and more diving makes divers better. Every time I dive, whether for fun or teaching, I am practicing my skills, my breathing, buoyancy, and utilizing the various features of my equipment. Practically, any diver looking to be part of a PSD Team, should not consider entering the water as a PSD without reaching at least 50 open water dives of varying skill levels.
There are various specialty dive courses in diving, all of which enhance your ability to better perform as a PSD team member. Diving in a Dry Suit, Deep diving, Search and Recovery, Underwater Navigation are just a few that not only enhance your skill level, but also keep you in the water. There is also training in being a Dive Tender, Surface Support and other PSD team duties that many PSD teams promote and teach in-house.
All through your dive training and progression to Public Safety Diver, you will continuously learn about various kinds, styles and manufacturers of dive gear. As I did and as many do, you slowly acquire pieces of gear that you have come to like and that fit your own style of diving. Rental gear is always available and lends the availability to try different styles of gear before purchasing. Some public safety entities have means of obtaining grants and other sources of funding to support training and gear acquisitions. However, funding rarely becomes available to teach an individual or a team Public Safety Diving from start to finish. Acquiring basic dive skills on your own gives you the ability to show an interest and personal desire to become a PSD Team member and presents you in a better position to ask or apply for monies to further your ability to provide a “public service” to your particular public service entity, law enforcement or fire department.
I can also assist you and your department in writing and adopting Standard Operating Guidelines for PSD Teams, in providing the resources for additional and ongoing PSD related training, both on land and in the water, and guidance on forming a PSD Team, local or regional.
Gerald Bayus Jr
PADI MSDT #253092
Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PSI/PCI Visual Cylinder Inspector #24353
PADI DISTINCTIVE OTS GUARDIAN FULL FACE MASK DIVER
Written by PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer Jerry Bayus, with significant input from John Hott, OTS Technical Training Advisor, this PADI Distinctive GFFM Specialty Diver Course was developed to specifically address diving the OTS Guardian FFM and similarly designed full face masks in both recreational dive and Public Safety Dive environments. The PADI Distinctive OTS GFFM Specialty Diver is a detailed and in-depth course which encompasses all functional and safety ascepts of diving the GFFM in a variety of water conditions. This GFFM course consists of class room knowledge development, extensive confined water training skills, concluding with at least 2 open water dives. Click on this link for an overview of the PADI Distinctive OTS GFFM Specialty Diver course.