Category Archives: A Better Dive Team

Journey of 540 Dives

This post goes out to the dedicated and hard working men of ALERT’s Unit 51. 

I have been on the road for most of April in the great state of Texas, teaching at the International ALERT Academy.

This is one of the twice-a-year moments that I get to teach there, and it is hands down my favorite group to teach.

We cover a LOT in a very short amount of time! In just 14 days, these young men are taken from not being very confident in the water to open water, advanced open water, and then through the special response diving course. Like I said, a LOT!

There are a few reasons why I enjoy this.

  1. These guys are beast. Like Nike, they just do it. No reservations or holding back when they are told to do something- they just get it done.
  2. Big, giant, human shaped sponges. All of them are eager to learn and grow.
  3. Competent. It’s not like they just learned to dive in the ocean and now they won’t dive for another year. No.. in just these two weeks they put 20 dives under their weight belts. Most people learning to dive won’t even do that many dives in a year!
  4. Let’s not leave out comical. It’s not perfection all the time, and there are a lot of screw ups, but we have fun doing it! The difference is that these guys are willing to learn from their mistakes.

These are only a few of the many reasons I enjoy working with ALERT men. I’m also an Alumni of the Academy, so there’s that…

There is one thing that stands out the most, however, among these young men. It’s their desire to go out and do. They have a fire lit inside to take the skills that they learn and go and serve their communities and public safety departments. And that’s exactly what we need. We need the next generation of public safety divers to get excited to take on the job that is there.

An interesting shift is going on in the public safety diving world right now. It’s the shift from the experienced old salts to the young bucks. Those that have been in the world of Underwater Search & Recovery and have been successful in their craft are either moving up their respective ladders, or they are retiring. The massive amounts of knowledge and wisdom that comes only from experience also leaves with them. This is leaving a learning gap in many departments. The old is out and the new is lost and left to find help and training on their own; which often means poor training.

But it’s this fresh batch, the newbies, the rookies, the ones with that drive to get it done, that make my job a joy to do. I look forward to the future of these ALERT men and the impact they will have on their communities. Keep up the good work guys!

If you want to find out more about ALERT click HERE!

 

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He who has the most gear is an idiot.

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.

  • Find a BC that is low profile. The less you stick out the better. I use Zeagle Scouts for me and my team.
  • Regulators should be streamlined, and if possible, should be environmentally sealed. Your gonna be on the bottom stirring up all kinds of sediment, so the more you have sealed the less maintenance you will need. The Atomic Line is great, as well as Aqualung Titans.
  • Knives should be attached to the BC somewhere around the waist area. You should be able to comfortably be able to take it out and replace it just by feel. It should also have a basic, yet effective, locking mechanism.
  • We use AIR 2’s as our safe second regulators. It reduces the amount of hoses coming from the first stage and slims down the whole setup.

 

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!

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The rise of technology, and the fall of common sense.

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!

 

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A Gentle Reminder. Gentle Like A Belly-Flop.

Last time I checked, you can not inhale water. Actually you can; but in doing so there have been reported many health risks. One of those risks is death. I’m not joking. People actually die from drowning! And you know what’s even more amazing? Public Safety Divers still do it! Even understanding there is a risk of dying, they still try to inhale that H2O. Why?!

Apparently no one told them that it’s no bueno. (Free Spanish lesson. You’re welcome.) If someone had, then maybe they might have been more careful. They might have had a different outcome. But where can one learn this kind of wisdom? Where can you go to understand what not to do?

It’s really not a question of where you can go, but who you can go to. The who you learn from is more important than where you learn. There are a lot of places you can go and learn advanced/specialty diving. Almost every sport diving agency has some kind of Search & Recovery certification. And if you are an advanced open water instructor with your agency, you’re all good to teach it. But has that instructor ever actually done it? Have they been down and located what was missing and brought it back? I’m not talking about a weight belt that fell off the boat in the ocean; I’m talking about zero visibility water looking for a gun that’s been pulled apart and tossed in piece by piece with every news station for 50 miles watching your every move. How would that instructor perform then?

Sadly this is happening. Police and fire departments across the country are finding and hiring sport diving instructors to train their people in something the instructor has no experience in, or business teaching. They are learning in clear water and comfortable conditions. If it’s raining they go home. Somehow this seems acceptable. Amazing.

Let me ask you a question. Why would you train anywhere other than where you would be performing the job? Pools are really nice; in fact I was in a pool last night. But I was teaching open water newbies, NOT people that need to be bringing their A-game at the worst times in the worst conditions! We need to get away from this mentality of trusting an instructor because they have a card that says they can teach a class. Take the time to interview someone who is going to train your department. Ask them what their experience is. I don’t care how many people you have taught, I want to know how long you have been doing recoveries and what kind of cases you have worked on. Tell me stories and some of your mistakes you have made.

Tell me why you teach what you teach! Are you doing this because it’s a good gig and the money is good, or are you doing this because you want to bring the very best training to those that serve our community’s? It is OK to ask these questions! If someone is going to get all defensive because you are challenging there credibility, then something is wrong.

So to sum this whole thing up in two words…be annoying. Ask questions, do your research, and don’t condemn you and your team to failing before the class even starts. Write down what you want to accomplish, and every question you can think of before you interview a potential instructor. Then get at it!

Search negatively my friends!

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The Importance Of Uniformity

In my world there is nothing worst than looking like an incompetent newbie. Anyone who has been in the Public Safety Diving business for any amount of time, knows what I’m talking about. Showing up to a callout and suddenly everyone on the team looks like it’s their first time suiting up. It looks bad and is embarrassing.  Not what you want, especially when the media or other agencies are around.

So why does this happen? Mainly because dive teams don’t take uniformity to an all encompassing level. The only thing that should be uniform is our training and t-shirts, right? Wrong. Every detail of your team and it’s equipment needs to be the same.

This is something my team takes seriously. We have everything the same right down to the compass and

where it’s kept on the BC. Each item was picked because of it’s functionality and ease of use. In the real world things go wrong. Regs free flow and BC’s auto inflate, and It’s really nice to be able to grab another guys setup and go! You should not have to think about where their light is or how his BC works. You have a job to do.

The only thing I allow my guys to have of their own is a wetsuit, mask, and fins. Even then, we train in the other guys fins just in case.

When doing search patterns it is also good to be uniform in how you do them. Hold the line the same way. If your tending, you should all stand the same way. In doing this there is no question in what is going on with the other team members. You can also step in for someone and not lose the momentum of your operation.

I’m going to drop a truth bomb on you. If you don’t know your team, and I mean really know them. You will not function as a team. Profound I know. This sounds like a no-brainer  but is often overlooked within Police and Fire Departments. They have guys who are “on the dive team” but are regular patrol and only get called if they are really needed. Do they even know who they are diving with? Who is that guy up there tending me?

So take a moment and ask yourself what you and your team can improve on. What can you make more streamlined?

People say that all publicity is good publicity. Being the incompetent newbie on the five o’clock is not what they mean…trust me.

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