This post will probably upset a lot of people. Probably because you have already spent all that money on your awesome new gear. So please hold your judgment until the end.
I love gadgets! I love cool gizmos and tools that allow me to conquer the challenges of life. You want to make me happy? Just drop me off at Home Depot and I will dream and scheme for hours. I probably should have an adult with me when I go there…
Every sport, profession or hobby, has some new must have tool or toy breaking into the market almost every month. Sometimes they are really amazingly helpful inventions that improve whatever it is you are doing. But sometimes they are a little bit weird and a lot of useless. I mean just look at the picture to the right!
Dive gear is no exception, and is one of the most widely discussed topics of any diving field. From Sport Diving to Public Safety Diving to Commercial Diving; dive gear is talked about among divers, like street racers talk about their cars, or my family and Fantasy Football. It’s your connection to the underwater world. For some people it’s just a tool, while for others, it’s their identity.
Let me clarify something. This blog is about Public Safety Diving. I’m not saying anything about sport divers here, so please continue to hold your judgment. Alright, here we go.
I have written previously about The Importance of Uniformity. I believe very strongly that as a team, every piece of gear should be the same. And I’m also a big believer that if it does not serve a purpose to your mission, get rid of it. Some of you are thinking about the “what ifs?” What if I drop my knife? What if I lose the search line? What if my regulator free flows? What if my light dies? What if my fin strap breaks? What if my depth gauge stops working? What if my computer batteries decide to give up the ghost while I’m 30 feet down? WHAT IF?!!!
Ok. So what? Does this means it’s the end of the world? No!
Last week I wrote about not trading in your common sense for toys and technology. The same thing applies here. Divers tend to feel that the more gadgets they add to their BC, the better a diver they will become. Even equipment manufacturers will rename something and make a diver believe they will be a better diver if they just buy that piece of equipment. Be careful that you do not become easily swayed by the shiny box and smooth talk.
For sport diving, there are some really cool accessories to enhance your gear and overall diving experience. For example, this thingy pictured right here is a personal favorite of mine. —————————–>
It’s a device that is capable of sending out a signal to rescuers, that you were an idiot and have no idea how to navigate, monitor your air, or start your dive into the current, and in some cases, all three. It asks you on the home page of the website, if your life is worth $299. I know mine is! That’s why I’m gonna buy two of them! So I can be extra stupid!
Really people?!!! We are just making it easier for divers to operate without the basic skills! Learn to use a compass and be back on the boat when the captain says so! There, I just saved your life, and your wallet $300. Take your dive buddy out for lunch and tell them I said they are welcome.
Public Safety Divers need to understand that the gear you use does not make the diver. And in the hazardous arena that is Public Safety Diving, the more equipment you have the greater chance of entanglement.
So when choosing your diving setup, here are some things I recommend you take into consideration.
These are just some things to think about. You have to keep in mind entanglement, entanglement, entanglement. The more you stick out with your gear, the better chance you will end up in a very awkward dance with something on the bottom.
Ok, you can judge now.
Search negatively my friends!
We got the call at about 9:30 AM. We loaded up, headed out, and arrived at a small lake that was nestled in the middle of a highway interchange. We were informed by Florida Highway Patrol that the incident had happened the night before, when a person driving a pickup truck, had lost control and driven off the interstate and gone into this lake. The driver had gotten out and was fine, but the truck was now making friends with the fishes.
I geared up and walked to the waters edge as my partner got the search line. We could see the tire tracks where the vehicle had gone in, and so using that as our LSP (Last Seen Point) we started an arc search. About 10 minutes later I located the vehicle that was, in fact, a pickup truck. It was just sitting there on all four wheels glistening in the early morning sun, about 120 feet from shore.
Well, to make this story short so I can talk on what this post is really about; we recovered the truck and all was good. But when I had come up after locating the truck, the wrecker operator was just laughing and shaking his head. He told us about a recovery he was at a few days before, where 6 off duty police officers had spent 6 hours using side scan sonar, looking for a 20 foot box truck in a 50 foot wide canal that was only 20 feet deep. He just laughed and said, “It took them 6 hours with all those guys and technology, and you two come out here, and in 10 minutes, find a pickup in a 40 foot lake with a piece of string!”
Does the title make sense now? You see where I’m going with this? Dive teams get sold on all kinds of new gadgets and gear, and pay for it by trading in there knowledge of the basic principles of Public Safety Diving. A sad side note: the amount of money these teams try to get to buy said gadgets, is money that could be used for upgrading basic equipment, or be used to pay for additional training days.
Give me money to pay a team some overtime to train with the basics, and I’ll give you better results then any piece of technology can produce. You think that’s a bold statement? Let’s take a look at a recent event in New Orleans.
I have a few things I would like to point out. First, is the amount of people who had been involved in the search. Multiple departments and volunteers assisted in looking for this missing teacher. The State Rep. in the video says that the area had been searched before but the vehicle had been missed. Now whether that was with side scan sonar or with search patterns I don’t know.
Second, is the relative closeness to shore where they located the missing teachers vehicle.
Third, there were a lot of other vehicle recovered! This tells me that they do not go into these areas regularly.
As I researched this story, I kept asking one question. Why was that car missed? If divers had been in there and they were proficient at their search patterns, why was that car not located?
We have to be careful that we are not sold into the thinking that big expensive toys make it all easier, or even more effective. You can only have one of two answers. I located the object, or the object was not in the search area. Are your search methods ingrained into your team so well that you can confidently give one of those two answers? Or do you have doubt when you get done with a search?
I’m not some stone age diver that thinks that technology will take over the world. I think that there some applications where side scan sonar is very useful. Heck, I was interviewed on the Nancy Grace Show one time about the use of side scan sonar in an investigation. In that investigation it was very helpful in locating the missing person. Things like side scan sonar and metal detectors can definitely be useful tools to assist your team, but I believe that you need to know and be able to perform effectively, the basic search patterns first!
So what I’m really trying to say is: Don’t sell your common sense to buy technology. That’s my point. Ok, I’m done.
Search negatively my friends!
As a full time police diver for over twenty five years I have had the blessing and the curse of observing in-service training and its effect on the dive resource capability of various agencies. The purpose of in-service training is to hone the knowledge, skills and abilities (attitudes) of the diving resource so as to maintain a level playing field among the various diving personnel. The other side of the coin is simply training for the sake of training. This being said, what is the circumstance when your team meets for in-service training? Since most of you reading this are in some way involved in underwater search & recovery or rescue I will leave you to decide the type of training the team in this story practiced.
One evening my partner and I were dispatched to a possible drowning in the south end of the county. Upon arrival the fire rescue divers were just exiting the water after searching for over forty-five minutes. Their on-scene commander had determined it was no longer a rescue, but is now a recovery for the police divers.
Since the first order of business was to gather information and determine the last scene point (also referred as a datum), and never having worked this rock pit before, I asked two of the eight divers about the depth and bottom condition. They both stated that the depth was over 60 feet with zero visibility.
With the sun setting and having talked to the one witness who claims to have watched the victim go under, my partner and I swam out to the last seen point with an anchor, down line, float and a search line. Because of the reported depth the down line was over sixty feet long, although when the anchor hit bottom I still had over forty feet of line in my hands.
After securing the excess line to the float we descended to twenty feet and landed next to a Ford van sitting on its wheels. Being over two hundred feet from shore in twenty feet of water on its wheels this van was an enigma to be solved later. Being able to see the whole van in this twilight the visibility was established as fifteen feet horizontal. Using the van as our base I tended my partner as he conducted an arc search starting out ten feet and arcing 180 degrees on each pass with ten feet increments each time. On the second pass my partner signaled that he had located the victim and secured the line around the victim’s chest.
The search that we conducted lasted less than five minutes.
What did we do differently than the eight divers who searched for over forty five minutes?
When I told the last fire diver on the scene that there was a Ford van in the middle of the lake, his response was, “ I know, we put it there for training. This is one of our training lakes”.
Well it is your turn to determine the type of in-service that goes on here!
“HOW YOU TRAIN, IS HOW YOU PERFORM WHEN IT GETS REAL ”
One of my favorite times on scene during a recovery is when people start asking questions. It’s not always from bystanders either. It can be from police officers or firefighters, or sometimes the poor kid who “just forgot to put it in park before I got out to tie down the jet ski, and that’s why my truck, trailer, and jet ski are underwater.” Whoever it is, their questions tend to be the same.
Most people don’t grow up around the beautiful waters of the Caribbean. They grow up swimming in the nearby lake or mud hole like I did. There was no way you were going to see the bottom until your face hit it. And if you can’t see the bottom, it must be bottomless! This reasoning alone is why we will always need Police and Public Safety Divers. People believe that water somehow swallows whatever gets thrown in. Gun, car, body, favorite pair of glasses, it don’t matter. It’s lost and gone forever. They believe a lot of things that are not true when it comes to water. You think I’m kidding?
These are the top five questions I get while on scene during a recovery, and how I usually answer them.
1. Question Asker: You’re gonna go dive in that water?
Question Asker: But it’s disgusting!
Me: It helps build your immune system.
2. QA: How deep is it?
Me: How deep do you think?
QA: Like…*wrong number* feet. (It’s never close. They will always go 10-20 feet deeper than what it is).
Me: No it’s only *correct depth* feet.
3. QA: Are you afraid of gators? (I live in South Florida)
QA: Why not? You know I’ve seen one in here!
Me: Oh yeah? Well maybe we will get lucky and get to pet him!
QA: No way man! You’re crazy!
4. QA: How can you see?
Me: With my eyes.
QA: But that water is nasty!
Me: I have magic eyes.
5. QA: What are you looking for?
Me: Pirate gold!
QA: No, really?
Me: No, really. Pirate gold.
You can probably tell I like to have fun with it. Some questions you can do that with and some you can’t. But you will always have the opportunity to teach them something. I have been on recoveries where I spend more time explaining how we do what we do to the police or fire personnel than actually doing the recovery. They just don’t know what’s really in that murky abyss. That’s a great time to build relationships and trust. Some department dive teams want to be this secretive group that does their thing and clears scene. Don’t be that group. You can do more for your team’s reputation by teaching others about what you do than you realize.
Part of the training for my team is how to deal with questions. We go over scenarios on questions that might get asked and how to properly handle them. They know what can be answered and what needs to get kicked up the chain of command. This is something that I would encourage you to do with your team. Because there is nothing more embarrassing than your divers not even knowing how deep the water is.