The Dangers and Procedures of HAZMAT Diving
Hazardous materials (Hazmat) diving can be exceptionally dangerous. Divers work in precarious conditions and regularly expose themselves to radioactive or other dangerous material.
But the dangers these divers face are minimized through intense training, durable commercial dive gear, and a thorough decontamination processes.
Many bodies of water contain some sort of contamination. HAZMAT divers face a high level of contaminant exposure. They require specialized commercial dive gear, as well as intensive decontamination procedures, to ensure their general safety.
For divers working in mildly-contaminated water, gloves, a utility belt, and a simple dry suit with a sealed neck should suffice. For water that is 'lightly' contaminated, a full face mask is recommended.
Divers working in exceptionally dirty and/or hazardous conditions require a full dive helmet, a stronger suit, and other specialized commercial dive gear. For example, the Thor Contaminated Water Diving Suit is built for highly contaminated water, and features vulcanized rubber that is strong enough to resist contaminants, and pliable enough to accomplish critical underwater tasks.
For full-on hazardous material tasks, like those involving radioactive material, a full HAZMAT-ready suit may be required.
The Decontamination Process
No matter how strong your protective suit, and commercial dive gear may be, decontamination procedures are crucial. Not only are these processes necessary to ensure the diver’s safety, but they also protect the team, and anyone else who may be within chemical or radioactive reach of the decontamination area.
Decontamination procedures vary from job to job as the chemical, and HAZMAT profile for each dive area will be different. The more hazardous the elements in the water, the more thorough the decontamination process will be. However, the process also depends on the type of equipment used, and the level of protection the equipment offers.
Here are a few things to remember about the decontamination process:
Ready, Set, Dive
Although HAZMAT divers face several dangers within their profession, safety risks can be minimized through proper HAZMAT commercial dive gear, and decontamination procedures. With the proper training and certification, potential issues or concerns can be put at ease.
To learn more about HAZMAT diving equipment, and the options currently available, be sure to give us a call at Aqua-Air Industries today. We have a wide range of commercial diving products that can aid in HAZMAT and other diving jobs.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Crime Scene Management and the Dive Team’s Role
Posted on: April 23, 2014by Patrick S. O’Boyle:
Without argument, many existing public safety dive teams are volunteers that serve the community very well, either as part of local volunteer fire departments, independent teams of trained public safety divers, rescue squads, or search and recovery teams. Law enforcement dive teams are a large part of the public safety dive team service, and have a strong understanding of this type of crime scene management. In recent months I have worked with sheriffs’ departments on missions and drills and they have agreed – further work is needed among dive teams of all types.
Not long ago, I was asked to critique a Dive Team Challenge hosted by a local law enforcement agency and the dive team support they receive from a third party agency.
A camp scene at the lake, two males, one female, a copious quantity of adult beverages, campfire, tent and outdoor gear, and a remote off-road location adjacent to hiking trails. The sun rose the following day and a group of hikers came across the body of the female in the woods. Law enforcement was called and excellent crime scene management protocols were followed. The camp site was found, with a male sleeping off the night’s consumption of alcohol, some scratches and blood noted upon his person. When detained and questioned, he admitted to killing his two camping mates, one in the woods, and the other in the lake. The local dive team was activated.
Upon arrival of the dive team, they were told to remain clear of both the campsite and the trail to the woods. I watched the boats enter the water, the sonar equipment get activated, gear being assembled, secondary gear being staged, and a full briefing with diver and tender assignments at the edge of the lake just adjacent to the campsite. No scene management was established by the dive team.
I stopped the drill and called the investigating officer and the dive team leader to the observation area. “Is anything wrong so far with this operation?” I asked. I was told by the dive team leader that EMS was called to start medical clearance. This was a good answer but not the one I was looking for (that should have been done at activation). The investigator stated he called for more LEO help. Okay, good again, but not correct. To trigger some previous training that each of these responders is required to have, I used the word HAZMAT. Okay, homerun. They immediately removed the gear, divers, staging, and created a warm zone and hot zones, logs and personnel times, separate entrance/exit areas, and a command structure was implemented.
My point is that we are part of the evidence chain. At times we may need to prompt the agencies already on scene. In my region, the Sheriff’s Department is the command agency on subsurface rescue and recovery. Local first responders arriving first may be operations, and then we set up a dive branch and dive operations. These are all typical NIMS protocols. When operating in rescue mode, these issues are different, but we operate with the Sheriff’s Department and until proven otherwise, consider it as a crime scene, or at least a potential crime scene.
In rescue mode, save the life and operate safely. Once time and conditions change, and the determination to switch to recovery mode is made, step back, consider potential crime scene applications and work with the command structure to contain the scene.
- Create your own warm and hot zone depending on operations (land vs. boat).
- Have a dive team member become your scribe, document all activity.
- Request a LEO liaison to be with dive team leader/operations.
- Operate under your training and protocol; you are in charge of the dive.
- Take the ERDI Crime Scene Investigation course!
On my team, we recover the victim subsurface in an approved body bag. We also take soil and water samples using sealable laboratory 30ml vials and place them into the body bag. We have received many compliments from crime scene investigators for this little action. They are always impressed. This takes me to another point, if we can impress a crime scene investigator we can take it further.
I am currently working with ERDI Training and the North Carolina Medical Examiner on a medical examiner-approved diver course that will be reviewed in the coming weeks. My goal is to have this available to all teams and delivered by medical examiners and ERDI instructor trainers so that all the effort of our public safety dive teams will be vertically integrated into state Chief Medical Examiner’s Offices and have them influence our protocols. So far it has been received with excitement and a cooperative spirit from each of the states I have contacted. The end result of all subsurface recovery has the strong potential to be an ME case. Let us bring them into our service and work with them as partners so that they see the valuable work we do. It can only make us better teams and servants of the community.
Look for this specialty course in the very near future. I thank ERDI Training, the Medical Examiner’s Office, and Air Hogs Scuba of Garner N.C. for their guidance and assistance getting this to our public safety dive professionals, either paid or volunteer. For my goal is to make us all professionals in our service.
The first step of any dive team is to understand that crime scene management is critical. ERDI takes great effort to provide proper documentation and scene management paperwork to any dive team operating under ERDI training programs. The ERDI Crime Scene Investigation course is the first step toward learning how to secure an operational scene and maintain evidentiary security. Education is the key to operational success and any dive team can do well by partaking in this scene management program.
Patrick S. O’Boyle
APP, Paramedic, DMT, FEMA Medical Specialist, Dive Team Captain, Public Safety DM, NC Death Investigator
APP, Paramedic, DMT, FEMA Medical Specialist, Dive Team Captain, Public Safety DM, NC Death Investigator
Are You Prepared to go to Court?
Posted on: April 23, 2014
by Thomas Powell:
Sworn law enforcement personnel are trained to deal with crime scene procedures and to follow evidence recovery protocols. Those sworn officers, deputies, or agents are then taught how to present information to a court room or court official in an honest and proper method. In a similar fashion, dive teams are taught to follow basic standards that must then be adapted to local needs and historical precedence. The problem is that many volunteer dive team members have never had to sit before a court room or defense attorney looking for problems associated with dive team actions. In most cases, volunteer divers have never even been trained on how to handle a court room scenario.
A court room can be a scary place. A defense attorney may seek to ruin a diver’s credibility, or find issues related to operational procedures. No dive team member wants to let the “bad guy” get away, or harm the credible image of his or her dive team. For this reason, a diver may crack under pressure, or become a problematic witness. Imagine you are a 19 year old volunteer who has joined a dive team in an effort to help your community and protect the people you love. You work hard, learn as much as you can, always show up, and establish true team dedication. Then one day you are the person who is tasked with recovering a child murder victim, surrounded by potential evidence, at 20 feet in zero-visibility water. You do your best and follow every standard you have learned in a methodical fashion. At the end of the day, your team and the local law enforcement representatives are proud of you and your actions.
Now fast-forward six months to a local court room where the evidence you collected helped bring a “bad guy” before the legal system. The defense attorney begins to question your methods. What did you miss because you could not see? What have you forgotten after six months of time? The attorney makes you question your skills and what you accomplished. Your concern begins to show before the jury, and you grow visibly upset because you know you did your best and now someone is questioning your abilities. This scenario could lead to the elimination of evidence and the release of a person who may have been truly guilty. This is a scenario that must be avoided if at all possible.
To compensate for a lack of basic education, the ERDI Testifying in Court program was developed to help any public safety diver be better prepared for a court room experience. This program helps a diver understand what may happen, how to dress when testifying, and even how to speak to the attorneys or a jury. A dive team must remember that this course is a fantastic preparatory tool, but then the divers must take a further step. The information learned in the Testifying in Court program must be practiced. Divers must work with leadership to cover the types of knowledge needed for a court room scenario, and then run through simulated practice scenarios to ensure diver comfort and ability when facing a real attorney.
Now go back to the court room in which you, the 19 year old volunteer was testifying. Imagine you are well-dressed and prepared with organized notes covering your actions and activities during your recovery operation. With each question, you are able to provide a confident and honest response that explains why and how you performed specific tasks. When you leave the court room that day, you know you were able to represent your team and your actions in the best manner possible. This secondary scenario is also one that would leave any diver more confident in relation to testifying during future court room scenarios.
A dive team of any sort must always be prepared to defend its actions. Data must be maintained as well as any information regarding activities, evidence collection, and scene operations. Prior to a court case, this information must be pulled and reviewed. Every step must be taken to ensure that any diver being asked to appear before court is confident, prepared, and supported in every possible fashion. To begin this process, the ERDI Testifying in Court program is an awareness-level course that can be used to better educate divers and prepare them for any court room experience that they may have never entertained before.
Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba
Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba
This entry was posted in ERDI News
The Dirtiest Job
Posted on: April 23, 2014by Don Heres:
The Water Looks OK. Are You Willing To Stake Your Life On It?
Today’s op however, is the type of call every responder dreads. Seven days ago, the five year old son of a prominent citizen disappeared while riding his bike around the neighborhood. Until today, there had been no clues as to his whereabouts. Early this morning, a golfer found a small shoe on the bank of the water hazard on the number 6 hole at the exclusive Bushwood Country Club. The shoe was similar to the type the missing boy was wearing on the day he disappeared.
Driving through the entrance of the finely manicured front gate, you are taken aback by the scenic beauty of this place. Today it is definitely above your pay grade, but thirty years ago it was rolling farmland where you hunted and rode your minibike. These manicured fairways and immaculate greens are a far cry from the corn and potatoes that were once grown here. Even the old farm ponds have been turned into scenic works of landscape art. Gently rolling fairways, perfect greens, blooming azaleas and the new green foliage on the trees complete a visual spectacle that makes golf courses in the spring something to behold, definitely a playground for the rich and famous.
Upon pulling into the parking lot you are met by a Who’s Who of local dignitaries, each with a look on their face that ranges from concern to angry impatience. The county manager, the sheriff, the fire chief, the mayor and several council members are there to brief, complain, and question your plan. Terrified family members gather around each other and watch in disbelief as you drive by. The local news channel’s van is parked in the main lot. It has its satellite dish aimed skyward and Danica Pomeroy, that cute reporter, is primping in its side mirror getting ready for a live feed as you drive by. As if the pressure being exerted by county officials was not enough, you cannot help but notice the 30 or so golfers all standing by the clubhouse looking impatiently at their watches as their appointed tee times have come and gone. You somehow did not expect this kind of pressure as you departed the station. To add to the surreal nature of being at Bushwood, you are practically assaulted by the course marshal and greens keeper when you tell them you will have to drive the equipment truck to the dive location. You are again accosted with the “hurry up, but don’t damage the course” attitude.
Upon arrival at the dive location you are pressed to make decisions quickly under the penetrating gaze of the county manager and the other officials who have followed you there in a parade of golf carts. They all know the missing child’s family, and each has surely received phone calls reminding them of that fact. You quickly decide that this is a simple search dive, probably more for show than anything else. Hopefully, you can get in and out quickly, without finding anything. It makes no sense that that the missing child would be in this location. It is well away from roads and several miles from his house. By donning wetsuits and simple open-circuit SCUBA gear, you can get divers into the water quickly and appease the impatient onlookers. These old ponds are usually 10-12 feet deep with sediment bottoms, so it will be a quick, easy search, even though recent spring rains have you a little concerned about visibility. Using two experienced divers and two tenders to assist, they quickly don their equipment and enter the water.
Within minutes, a surface marker appears in the middle of the pond. A muddy cloud also appears at the surface. Knowing this is not good, you ask law enforcement officers to clear the area and to secure the perimeter. EMS is called forward and tarps are brought out to mask what will probably unfold shortly.
Underwater, your divers have discovered the decomposing body of a young male, wrapped with heavy chains around him and his bicycle, resting on the bottom. Excited and fueled by a combination of semi-panic, adrenaline and the urgency to hurry that often follows the discovery of something ghastly, the divers drop to their knees and begin to try and dislodge the combined mass from the mud. Without communications gear, and feeling hard-pressed to recover the body quickly, the divers decide to remain submerged and press on. By using a small lift bag, they reason, they can lift the entire mass as a single package, thus maintaining the integrity of the grisly evidence. Getting the lift bag straps under the collection of metal and human remains requires digging a trench through the sediment with their hands. Visibility drops as the sediment cloud envelops the two divers. With no real current in the pond, the cloud seems to linger like a morning fog before eventually falling back to the bottom.
Divers, dressed in ordinary SCUBA equipment bring a body to the shoreline. Photo courtesy of documentingreality.com
The yellow lift bag breaks the surface along with the divers accompanying it. The body is moved towards shore, and EMS and law enforcement take custody and begin their processing procedure. Realizing the two divers have been exposed to the biological hazards of a decomposing body, you expedite their exit from the water and begin washing them with fresh water from a nearby yard hydrant. Tenders mix a 5% solution of sodium hypochlorite and water and begin scrubbing all of the outer surfaces of their dive equipment in an attempt to kill any biological residue. The divers use soap on their skin and hair after removing their wetsuits. With the pressure off, another dive team, dressed in drysuits, full-faced masks and communications gear enter the pond to continue searching for evidence.
As your team prepares to depart, you are offered congratulations and compliments by the County officials who have been watching the operation. They felt your professionalism and rapid deployment helped bring a delicate situation to an end. After cleaning the equipment that was used, your team members disperse with many, like yourself, heading towards home and dinner. While relaxing, the events of the day run through your mind. Although rushed you feel you were able to lead a successful operation and bring closure to a grieving family.
As you start to walk up the stairs toward your bedroom, the phone rings. On the other end you hear crying, and the wife of one of your first-in divers tells you that her husband is in the Emergency Room after collapsing and going into convulsions right after dinner. As you drive towards the hospital, the questions start rolling through your head. What happened? Was it related to today’s dive operation? What did I miss?
As a training exercise, stop here and take out a piece of paper. Evaluate the preceding scenario listing all of the errors made during the operation, but most importantly list the root cause of each mistake. Mistakes in operational protocols are usually relatively easy to pick out for experienced dive team members; however, determining the root cause of errors sometimes takes a more detailed evaluation. It is imperative that anyone operating in “contaminated water” be able to see beyond the obvious. By not only evaluating what was done wrong, but also why it was done wrong, you as a team leader have the ability to be “pro-active” rather than simply taking “reactive” corrective actions.
First and foremost, this is a “contaminated water” dive. “Contaminated water” is simply what the term “Bad stuff” or “MEBS” (Methyl Ethyl Bad Stuff) was to HAZMAT teams before the implementation of CFR 1910.120 (HAZWOPER) in 1986. Like the term or not… this is a HAZMAT dive. It is no different than when a member of a Hazardous Materials Response Team dons a fully encapsulated Level A chemical suit to enter a hostile environment. It is time that divers recognize truly just what “contaminated water” really is, and the implications it may have on PSD’s. Simply camouflaging the term “HAZMAT” with catchy buzz words does not degrade or lessen the dangers of chemicals that may be present. Some of the potential HAZMAT problems are obvious, other are not.
While the team’s lack of practical training is obvious and plays a major role, let’s by-pass this for a moment and look at what is perhaps the biggest factor that contributed to the eventual negative outcome… pressure. From the outset, the dive team leader (DTL) was being pushed and pressured to hurry. The prominence of the missing child, the number of high ranking officials on-scene, the media, the presence of distraught family members, even the impatient golfers all contribute to the pressure the DTL was feeling to expedite the operation. This pressure also trickled down to the initial dive team as even they felt the need to hurry. This external pressure can, and did, force decisions without proper evaluation or size-up.
The point here is that you cannot be rushed… period. To the untrained observer, or “operationally ignorant”, it may appear that things are moving slowly for no reason. This lack of knowledge by observers is often expressed in the form of anger or impatience. It is not uncommon to hear things such as, “What are you waiting for?” or “Hurry up and just jump in the water, what’s so difficult about that?” It is up to the DTL to evaluate the scene and insure the safety of all personnel, not appease the crowd. Establish an operational dive plan and stick to your SOG’s. Under no circumstances should the priorities of others be allowed to compromise safety.
Another root cause of the negative outcome could very easily be contributed to complacency. In this case, the tranquil and scenic surroundings did not look like a crime scene. It apparently did not fit into the crime scene image visualized by the DTL. In this case his preconceived ideas immediately led him to believe this was probably a false alarm and that they would find nothing during their search. Complacency is a deadly trap and must be avoided. As any CSI will tell you, there is no such thing as a typical crime scene. Any dive, especially where the primary objective is looking for a body, must be treated as if a body will be found. Additionally, ponds, lakes and streams are likely to have a variety of wildlife decomposing on the bottom. Even a diver, changing the zinc anodes on the fishing trawler at the dock behind the local coastal seafood market will encounter fish carcasses rotting on the bottom. All of these biologicals pose a potential health threat that cannot be ignored.
Next let’s consider the team’s apparent lack of Standard Operating Guidelines. Guidance documents are critical to insure safety. These documents are developed, reviewed, and modified to address how a team will operate during a variety of situations. During early planning and strategy meetings, dive team members have the opportunity to evaluate the type of diving they are trained, equipped, and willing to do. Once these boundaries are established, procedural guidelines are put into place to provide a step-by-step roadmap that leads to a safe conclusion. They should be flexible enough to adapt to any situation, but rigid enough to insure that safety is neither by-passed nor compromised. “Contaminated water” diving is nothing new. The U.S. Navy, the EPA diving program, and PSD teams across the country have already established SOG’s that embrace entering contaminated water. Books, such as ERDI’s Contaminated Water Diving Operations by Michael Glenn, research and information published by Viking and DUI, have introduced divers to the dangers of “dirty water”. In the scenario above, it is apparent that SOG’s have neither been developed nor followed. The decision to use open-circuit SCUBA appeared almost to be off-the-cuff, because it was simple and fast. Diver safety and evidence recovery were compromised. If contaminated water SOG’s had been in place, no diver would have entered the water without appropriate protection from biological hazards… at a minimum.
In your opinion, was a comprehensive size-up and scene evaluation conducted? It is imperative that a complete and thorough evaluation of the dive location be conducted before any dive operations begin. A dive operations plan will pivot around this evaluation. The initial size-up conducted by the DTL was better suited for Golf Digest than a dive operation. Even the DTL’s own memories of the location provided valuable clues as to the potential dangers associated with the location, but were quickly discarded. He remembered the location as farmland where potatoes and corn grew. Both of these crops relied heavily on DDT-based pesticides to control insects. Even though DDT was banned in the 1970’s, it is a very persistent chemical that leeches into soil and sediment. Years of use would cause the pesticides to run into farm ponds and settle into the sediment at the bottom. These farm ponds would later become water hazards at Bushwood. As if ancient pesticides were not bad enough, golf courses do not just magically become landscape marvels. They require amazing amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals being applied year round.
Of the 30 most commonly used turf pesticides, 19 can cause cancer, 13 are linked to birth defects, 21 can affect reproduction and 15 are nervous system toxicants. Studies are even being conducted to determine the health effects of these chemicals on golfers. Warnings have been issued for golfers to wear long pants and long socks when playing to prevent contact with these chemicals. The most popular and widely used lawn chemical, 2,4-D, which kills broad leaf weeds like dandelions, is an endocrine disruptor with predicted human health hazards ranging from changes in estrogen and testosterone levels to thyroid problems, prostate cancer, and reproductive abnormalities. 2,4-D has also been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. With the “recent spring rains” (i.e. the “first flush”), these chemicals wash into the same water hazards and also accumulate in the sediment, the same sediment the first dive team was aggressively working in. The same sediment that enveloped the divers in a dirty cloud while on the bottom. The same divers who entered the water wearing, what amounts to, recreational SCUBA equipment and worked feverishly in the cloud of hanging sediment. While biological hazards were indeed a problem, it appears that hazardous chemical problems were never even considered. Nothing can pose a threat to divers more than an inadequate scene size-up. Failure to carefully evaluate the scene leads to missed clues. Sometimes these clues are obvious, but a lack of training and knowledge can make them invisible. Only by training DTL’s, as well as team members, to properly conduct a size-up that extends beyond dive parameters, can we minimize the likelihood of a diver suffering a chemical related injury.
Most of you have probably already concluded that this particular team was inadequately trained to be conducting the operations in which they were engaging. Not only is inadequate training a serious root problem, it appears that a lack of knowledge about the type of training necessary may also be contributory. Diving, especially PSD diving is not diver friendly. Forget the beautiful, crystal clear open waters of the Bahamas. In public safety diving, visibility and mobility would be considered a luxury, as farm ponds and hog lagoons seldom offer either. PSD diving is always in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Why else would you be there? Simply acquiring diving equipment and recruiting experienced open water divers does not make for a successful dive team. In fact, it probably does just the opposite. Most open water divers complain when visibility drops to 10-15 feet. Operating in zero visibility creates a whole new set of problems for inexperienced “toilet water” divers. Fear and panic are the most common. Many problems will render a team operationally ineffective. Any team that begins operations without mastering the multitude of training required to operate in an overtly hostile environment is asking for problems such as the one described.
Today’s firefighters are being required to obtain Firefighter I & II Certification through standardized agencies such as International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC). This requires firefighters to master a variety of skill and knowledge challenges before they begin responding to actual emergencies. Additionally, they must attain HAZMAT Operations Level Certification to be prepared for the fact that they will inevitably encounter dangerous materials. The above scenario presents the case for establishing a mandatory certification program that guides public sector dive teams. Technical dive training that insures the proper use of drysuits, full face masks, and surface supplied air are obvious. Contaminated water training should also be mandatory, just as HAZMAT is for firefighters. Again, whether you like the term or not, contaminated water is HAZMAT. Unlike diving in the open ocean, there are very few inland water bodies that do not hold the potential of serious contamination. Any dive, no matter what the objective, should be treated as if there are contaminants in the water. Home and farm chemicals wind up in streams, lakes and ponds. Rivers, such as the Hudson in NY, may be contaminated with PCB’s or a variety of TIC’s (Toxic Industrial Chemicals).
1952 – The heavily polluted Cuyahoga River burns doing over one million dollars in damage to boats and riverfront buildings. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
The Cuyahoga River in Ohio is so polluted that in 1969 it actually caught fire… for the 13th time. Transportation accidents can introduce innumerable chemicals into the water. Operating in these contaminated waters not only poses a risk to the diver, but also to tenders and support staff that may assist divers as they exit the water, which means team training needs to extend beyond just protecting the divers. Training that prepares DTL’s to better assess the hazards of a dive location are needed. Dive team members have to be trained in such a way that they can recognize hazardous water environments and insure their own safety. OSHA’s CFR 1910.120, the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard applies to “employees” who operate in chemical environments or respond to situations where hazardous chemicals may be present. The EPA’s 40 CFR 311 mirrors the same mandatory requirements as put forth in OSHA’s HAZWOPER. Responders as a whole often shy away (better stated as RUN away) from HAZMAT training as misconceptions usually lead responders to believe it will be a detailed study of chemistry, physics, and math. It is not. While HAZMAT is obviously rooted in the advanced sciences, it is more of an acquisition of knowledge and the application of common sense. We live in a petro-chemical society, chemicals are everywhere. Simply put… chemicals are not going away, so we as divers need to accept this and “improvise, adapt, and overcome” to move forward, continue doing our jobs, and return home safely every night
The ERDI course, Contaminated Water Diving Operations, is an excellent first step towards recognizing the dangers associated with diving in “dirty water” and gaining a necessary competence in the subject matter. The objective of the program is to help divers establish recognition and planning methods for contaminated water diving.
Don Heres was certified in 1977 and after graduation from NCSU he worked for 6 years doing commercial diving and ship husbandry along the east coast. He has spent 30 years as a Firefighter, Officer, and Fire Service Instructor, retiring from active response as an Assistant Chief. He served as the Lead HAZMAT Instructor for the NC Office of the State Fire Marshal where he developed the original Hazardous Materials Responder Certification and HAZMAT Instructor Qualification programs for North Carolina and served on the Governor’s Committee that developed the NC’s HAZMAT Regional Response Teams. He also served as the Hazardous Materials Coordinator for Wake County Emergency Management where he was responsible for HAZMAT planning and SARA Title III Programs. Today he continues to teach Firefighters and owns Hazard-Risk Management Associates in Clayton, NC a company that specializes in OSHA Safety and training hazardous materials responders in both the public and private sectors. He continues to be an avid diver.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
Surface Supplied Air Event with US Border Patrol and Phoenix PolicePosted on: March 26, 2014
by Shawn Harrison
In February I had the pleasure of being invited to sunny Arizona in order to attend an event that the US Border Patrol (USBP) and Phoenix Police Department (PPD) where holding. Both teams were conducting a joint training event on Surface Supplied Air (SSA). Mike Buck, a member of the US Border Patrol’s BORSTAR team, was informing me that all members of the Tucson BORSTAR’s Subsurface Maritime Operations Group in this class received training on SSA. He further stated that “this training conditions our team for multiple scenarios that we may encounter, and we need to be prepared to respond.” They also realize that SSA requires specialized training. Moreover, the deployment of the system into various environments would provide additional safety factors.
As part of the training they had scenarios set up in which they would deploy from shore in boats and even small Zodiacs (as you can see from the picture below). One of the scenarios involved a vehicle that had been submerged into the water. After searching and locating the vehicle, they realized it was full of drugs bundled in burlap bags (the bags where stuffed for simulation of course). They would then deploy a diver to extract the material from the car. Come to find out, this is a real situation they might face.
During the scenario, the SSA diver would deploy from the boat as the tender would guide the diver to the suspected search area. A search pattern was used to slowly work the diver back towards the objective. The diver is attached to an umbilical line which contains the air hose, as well as a safety line and communication line. The communication line is hard-wired into the system making it more reliable than wireless systems. The diver has an emergency bailout bottle mounted on his back; also the umbilical line can act as the search pattern line.
The majority of public safety dive teams train using Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) equipment, and both the US Border Patrol and Phoenix Dive Team are trained in both SCUBA and SSA. This was a great opportunity to see the two teams working together and sharing information with each other.
I would like to thank George Herr, David Jordon and the Phoenix Police Department’s dive team, along with Mike Buck and all the US Border Patrol BORSTAR dive team members for allowing me the opportunity to take part in this event.
Contact SDI TDI and ERDI
Tel: 888.778.9073 | 207.729.4201
Helitrox for PS Diving – Clear Head, Clear Mind in Deep Recoveries?Posted on: March 26, 2014
by Thomas Powell
In the public safety world, gas fills can become complicated. Fire stations must follow OSHA regulations, and fill station operators require training that is not required in standard dive shop environments. If a person were to speak to most current dive team leaders in the United States, they would insist that mixed gasses of any sort, and even basic nitrox, are not allowed in public safety diving programs. Extensive research will show that, in the majority of cases, there are no standing rules preventing the use of nitrox or mixed gas. The reality is that not every public safety dive team has easy access to a fill station. The difficulty acquiring basic air scares team leaders and oversight bodies away from the complications of obtaining gasses that may be even harder, and more expensive, to acquire.
Helitrox is a breathing gas made up of nitrogen, helium, and oxygen. The proper mixtures of these gasses can allow a diver to function and operate at depths beyond the range of standard air fills. In the modern world helitrox is often used by technical divers or commercial divers undergoing complex and often deeper dive activities. To perform technical dives using helitrox, a diver must understand the physiology associated with how the gas can affect the human body underwater, and how to plan for a dive that may involve soft or hard ceilings. To date, advanced mixed gasses have rarely been used in public safety dive training programs or operations. Despite this fact, roughly one year ago, the entire world saw a group of commercial divers, diving helitrox, recover a man who had been submerged in a trapped shipwreck for three days. The gas being used allowed divers to remain underwater and perform an unplanned recovery.
The United States is bordered by two major oceans and consists of a vast number of deep waterways within her interior. When looking at these bodies of water, operational dive teams must recognize that one day they may be called to perform a recovery, or even a rescue, at depth. Imagine that a diver has been trapped at depth while diving helitrox. If a rescue is possible, the team performing the operation must understand the physiology associated with the gas being inspired by the victim. This knowledge will allow the dive team involved to best plan a rescue and return to the surface that does not exacerbate already existing problems.
Similarly, certain bodies of water in the United States exist at altitude. This factor makes even recovery operations go off standard “table diving” scenarios. Essentially, a one hundred foot (deep) recovery dive may be converted to a deeper theoretical depth based on altitude. This factor suggests that divers at altitude may be safer if they have a good knowledge base and understanding of how to use mixed gasses. One of the most interesting things to do with a diver is to let them do comparison dives between helitrox and air. Essentially, let the diver do a dive on helitrox and then later do a dive on air. Then have the diver determine which dive is more memorable. The helitrox dive will be better remembered. This scenario shows that helitrox allows a diver to remain more “clear-headed.”
In the world of public safety diving, being clear-headed and cognizant of all operational activities could save a life. These divers already perform activities in near-zero visibility using a sense of touch. If a problem arises, a clear-headed diver may be more prepared to correct issues or solve problems. Similarly, a clear-headed diver may better remember dive-related details essential to a courtroom scenario.
There is no reason for a dive team to avoid gaining improved levels of knowledge. In many cases, leadership personnel will establish a goal for public safety dive teams. This goal may be the completion of a course such as ERD II. Once that goal is achieved, leadership often turns to team status maintenance. New divers get trained, and current divers do in-service training. This mindset often leads to a lack of focus and the establishment of a normal routine. Education requires a break from this routine and a focus on continued improvement. Even if a dive team does not dive mixed gasses on a regular basis, an understanding of the related dive theory will help dive team members better acknowledge how gas can affect the human body.
Mixed gas diving requires strong education and a focus on learning how to be safe at deeper depths. Despite this, helitrox can allow emergency response divers to perform activities for longer periods, with clearer minds, at deeper depths. A dive team must determine if mixed gas diving could play a role within its territory, and then consider if the team wishes to be available for extended range calls for help in an area exceeding local territory boundaries. At altitude, helitrox diving may be essential to remain safe. Closer to sea level, helitrox diving may be an activity that is beyond the skills set desired by a team. Team leaders must work to make the best decisions possible in regard to team capabilities and knowledge bases.
In North Carolina, the staff at Air Hogs Scuba is working with various dive teams to begin developing a better understanding (for team members) of how gas affects the human body. Three teams are currently working through the TDI Nitrox program as a starting point. The objective is to learn the math, and better understand how to draw personal conclusions regarding how to dive differing gas mixtures. This course is the entry-point for dive teams considering mixed-gas response capabilities. No dive team should turn down educational opportunities provided within reasonable parameters, and helitrox has its place in public safety diving. The reality is that teams have to make the move to become more educated and step outside normal training parameters. Actions of this type will give dive teams greater capabilities, and an improved potential for performing operational activities in expanded environments.-Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba
This entry was posted in ERDI News.