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Saturday, March 29, 2014
Supplied Air Event with US Border Patrol and Phoenix Police
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
If you would like more
information, please contact our World Headquarters or your Regional Office.
for PS Diving – Clear Head, Clear Mind in Deep Recoveries?
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.
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
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.
Instructor Workshop for the Virginia Port Authority
on: March 26, 2014
Please welcome our new
instructors from the Virginia Port Authority class:
Frank White, Steven
Curry, George Yates, Fred Simpson, Bryan Miers, Brian Decker, Danny Turnquist,
Mark Robinson, Michael Derwent, Russell Dunton, Steve Callow, Steven Dooley,
Terry Chambers, Todd Day, Wallace Chadwick, William Engstrom, James Scholten,
Pelham Felder, Reo Hagood, Charles Perry, Karl Kassel, Jeremiah Johnson. Instructors:
Buck Buchanan, Shawn Harrison, assistant Benjamin Dobrin.
Dive911 along with
Emergency Response Diving International™ conducted an ERD Instructor workshop
for the Virginia Port Authority earlier this year consisting of multiple
jurisdictions of Law Enforcement and Fire Departments.
Buck Buchanan from
Dive 911 stated, “It was an absolute pleasure working with this group of
instructor candidates. . . Candidates received 100 and 250 hours of training
over a space of 3 months, the program ended successfully with everyone gaining
the rating of SDI and ERDI Instructor.”
Special thanks go to
Bill Burket, Jr of the Virginia Port Authority for helping put this together.
completion of this course, graduates may teach courses for all approved SDI™
and ERDI™ levels, including conducting Ops Components. The course is intense
and challenging, but very rewarding. This
entry was posted in ERDI News.
Importance of Witness Interviews for a Recovery Dive
on: February 27, 2014
How many times have we wished we had performed the witness
interviews differently after the search?
Recently I was asked
to help out with the recovery of an ice fisherman that went through the ice
with his UTV. A UTV for those not familiar, is a large all-terrain vehicle big
enough to hold four adults. A friend of the victim’s family called to inform me
two area dive teams had put in a couple of days searching and the search was
being called off because divers were having problems due to the cold weather
I was put in contact
with the Emergency Management Director who was also the IC. At the end of day
three the EMD called and asked if I would now come after a third dive team came
up with no results.
The witness was
interviewed by the first Sheriff’s Deputy on scene. I asked to be put in
contact with the witness when I arrived. The EMD indicated that the witness was
a close friend and was having a hard time with this and that she had the
The Report: The two
fishermen each had their own UTV’s and had been out on the lake fishing most of
the day. At dusk they were crossing the lake. When the witness got to shore he
turned and saw his friend and UTV breaking through the ice about 100 yards off
shore. The witness then ran out onto the ice and grabbed the victim’s hand as
he slipped under the ice.
When I arrived at the
scene of the accident, it was now day four after the incident. I met with the
EMD and once again asked to speak with the witness. The EMD indicated she was
unsure if the witness was available and highly doubted he was willing to speak
about the situation, still having too difficult a time with the circumstances.
From past experiences I knew how critical getting first-hand information is.
Our human instinct is to nurture someone in pain and not further suffering so I
hesitantly not pursue another witness interview or press the issue with the
We then had a briefing
with the third dive team who had just packed up and would be heading home after
two long days on and under the ice. It was during this briefing I asked a
question that brought up a point about this particular UTV structure. This
threw up a red flag for the dive team immediately. It was decided that the
vehicle needed to be re-checked before they went home.
Essentially the third
dive team assumed the vehicle had been completely cleared by the previous dive
teams. They focused their search on the outer perimeter of the vehicle with
this assumption. Once they dropped down to the vehicle, the victim was found in
the back seat of the UTV. The previous dive teams shined a light in the back
but had not opened the doors to clear the vehicle 100%.
As with all scenarios
we learn so that the next mission is conducted more efficiently. My feeling is,
had there been a thorough interview with the witness, this case would have been
wrapped up on the first dive. We often get caught up in the emotions of the
participating parties and sometime our emotions affect the outcome.
It turns out the
witness was holding onto the victim’s hand as he was trying to get out. He
couldn’t because the door wouldn’t open far enough. The victim went under the
ice while in the fully enclosed cab of a four door UTV.
WITNESS will be the key to all successful searches!
Public Safety Dive Teams Year Around at Air Hogs Scuba
on: February 27, 2014
Most divers seem to
believe that the winter months of the year are a time to relax by the fire and
enjoy time indoors. Conversely, a small number of divers realize this is the
perfect time of year to prepare for the worst possible conditions. Around the
United States, public safety dive teams, both volunteer and professional, take
to the water. Icy conditions, cold wind, and bulky equipment do not stop these
men and women from working hard to be prepared to help others in need.
Dive shops are the
backbone of public safety dive teams. In many cases, shops provide the gear
(via retail sales), the training, consultation, and general support. At Air
Hogs Scuba, in Garner, North Carolina, the training staff has dedicated a large
portion of time and effort toward helping public safety dive team members be
the best divers they can be. Air Hogs Scuba runs public safety training
programs year round in an effort to upgrade team qualifications and to keep
dive teams in the water. Long breaks and time out of the water do not help
teams retain skill sets and knowledge.
Each January, Air Hogs
Scuba runs ERD Dry Suit Ops and ERD Full Face Ops programs to ensure divers can
handle dry diving and basic encapsulation when it really matters. Similarly,
the shop begins an annual fitness progression and evaluation program for any
team willing to participate. From that point forward, the teams always dive dry
and in full-face units for future classes. Essentially, divers and teams are
better prepared to enter into ERD 1 and 2 or Tender classes, as well as other
programs such as contaminated water or swift water. To capitalize on success,
the shop has brought together a group of ERDI professionals to handle their
needs and the recognized needs of dive teams. Two of these individuals are ERDI
Instructor Trainers. In 2014, Thomas Powell, Josh Norris, Darrell Adams, and
Rob Bradish combined teaching abilities and shared resources to find ways to
better benefit public safety dive teams in North Carolina. This action has led
to new programs, shared skill sets, mutual aid between teams, team interactions
on an increased level, and improved teaching success. The goal for Air Hogs
Scuba (in regard to public safety divers) has become: to better educate divers
and improve their capabilities in the realm of emergency response operations.
ERDI programs are
designed to teach divers how to be safe, responsible, effective, and skilled
during any response operation. The other factors that should be noted in regard
to ERDI are the OSHA and NFPA regulations with which they comply. These
compliance actions taken by ERDI during program development help teams and
departments avoid liability by following certain regulations during both
training and operational activities. This is the biggest recognition that sells
ERDI classes to dive teams. Companies such as Air Hogs Scuba work to sell the
best class possible, while showing teams how to best protect their assets.
Teaching programs at
Air Hogs Scuba have become more in-depth, and outside resources are being
utilized. ERDI programs are being taught in conjunction with classes provided
by the Office of the State Fire Marshall to improve knowledge and understanding
based on regional needs. The North Carolina State Justice Academy has even
offered a professional certificate for divers who achieve certain public safety
diving academic accomplishments. These actions have ensured dive teams
recognize the added benefit and value that can be professionally rooted in any
The goal of any public
safety dive program within a dive business should be to improve knowledge and
the overall skill sets maintained by the divers with which the business works.
Well-educated, skilled divers ensure safer response scenarios and improved
outcomes. ERDI has provided the avenue through which this goal can be achieved.
Dive shops must simply find the best way to make use of the provided resources
and help their local communities.
Dive team members should be equipped with the
right protection for cold water diving. In most circumstances, this would
include a dry suit with insulating undergarments, dry gloves, a dry hood, and a
In the real world of
public safety diving, there is no single definition of what constitutes “cold
water.” Defining cold water is difficult because it depends on so many factors,
i.e., the water temperature, the diver’s size, amount of subcutaneous fat,
state of acclimatization to cold water, individual physiology, and activity
level. What one person perceives as a comfortable water temperature may be
intolerable to another.
The real issue here is
at what point does exposure to cold water become debilitating? For the moment,
we’re assuming we’re talking about a diver who either is wearing inadequate
thermal protection, or whose thermal protection has been compromised, i.e. a
flooded dry suit. There is a continuum of responses to cold water that runs the
gamut from mild discomfort all the way to unconsciousness and death. As far as
I am concerned, the line is drawn at “debilitating effects” because once the
diver cannot perform at the peak of his ability, the risks in diving increase
to unacceptable levels.
range from loss of concentration to shivering and the inability to use one’s
hands properly. Any of these situations puts the diver at elevated risk and
indicate that the diver is not wearing adequate thermal protection for the task
at hand. If you notice these signs in yourself or another diver, it’s time to
terminate the dive and regroup.
When divers discuss
diving in cold water, the term “hypothermia” frequently comes up. Although we
all think we know what we mean when we discuss the issue of hypothermia, the
reality is that physiologists have a very different perspective on hypothermia
than most divers. For a physiologist, hypothermia is defined as a body core
temperature below 95 degrees F. Above this temperature, while you might be
uncomfortably cold, by definition, you are not hypothermic.
Dr. Neal Pollock,
Ph.D., Research Director for Divers Alert Network (DAN), points out that, “The
threshold core temperature for hypothermia is 35C (95F), a substantial drop. It
is unlikely that a diver with even modest protective garments will reach that
point. There is a big gulf between being cold and being hypothermic. Shivering
(episodic or continuous) and general impairment will develop long before the
definition of hypothermia is met. I think that the focus on the structure of
hypothermia stages (mild, moderate and severe) is unhelpful, confusing cold
impairment with hypothermia. You do not need both for serious problems to develop.”
Dr. Pollock knows that
of which he speaks, and has experienced a flooded dry suit during a polar dive
on a 43 minute excursion in 29 degree F seawater. Since he was wearing
Thinsulate® under his dry suit during the dive, he was able to continue the
dive, which was being conducted to measure his core temperature (don’t try this
at home!). The only reason he continued the dive was that it was being
conducted for the express purpose of measuring core temperature, otherwise this
type of occurrence would normally call for the dive to be aborted.
Interestingly enough, the largest drop in Dr. Pollock’s core temperature took
place after he exited the water.
True hypothermia is a
very serious condition and can lead to unconsciousness, cardiac arrhythmias
(irregular beat), and death. Clearly, these are scenarios that you don’t want
to occur underwater.
As mentioned earlier,
you don’t have to be hypothermic to place yourself at risk in cold water. A dry
suit (with insulating undergarments) alone is not adequate thermal protection
in cold water. Proper protection of the head and hands is equally important,
and dry hoods, full-face masks, and dry gloves are vital, especially for diving
under the ice. One issue that may occur with dry gloves and dry hoods are that
if they are compromised, their insulation value will be lost. Keep in mind that
every piece of equipment has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The language you use
as a public safety diver is important, since your actions may be scrutinized
and challenged in a court of law. In most cases, you will not be able to
properly diagnose a dive team member as hypothermic, unless you are using some
very sophisticated equipment. In any situation where you must describe a
diver’s inability to perform in cold water, it’s best to say that he suffered
from “cold stress.” Leave the medical diagnosis to the physiologists and
About the author:
Steven M. Barsky is a professional diver, diving consultant and author. He has
written 18 diving texts and and produced 9 diving DVDs. His latest DVD video,
Careers in Diving, was released in December 2013. Get in contact with Steve