Saturday, March 29, 2014

Surface Supplied Air Event with US Border Patrol and Phoenix Police
Posted 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.

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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

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ERD Instructor Workshop for the Virginia Port Authority

ERD Instructor Workshop for the Virginia Port Authority
Posted 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.
Upon successful 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.

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Saturday, March 01, 2014


The Importance of Witness Interviews for a Recovery Dive

Posted 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 conditions.
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 witness report.
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 EMD.
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.
Interviewing the WITNESS will be the key to all successful searches!
By Keith Cormican
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Educating Public Safety Dive Teams Year Around at Air Hogs Scuba

Posted 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 ERDI program.

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.

by Thomas Powell Air Hogs Scuba

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Hypothermia: It’s All a Matter of Degrees

Hypothermia: It’s All a Matter of Degrees
Posted on: February 27, 2014

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 full-face mask.

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.

Debilitating effects 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 physicians.

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

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