For many years I have worked with and trained Civil Response and Public Safety dive teams and it still surprises me that most of the people involved do not know the difference. The lack of training and education In the recovery diver field will shock you. A dive team is an expense that most agencies do not want until they are needed and they seem to have no problem telling you to do something that you are not trained for or qualified to do. This is a double edged sword.
First, we have a lot of people that will try simply to make themselves look good. They are arrogant enough to believe that a sport diver can do anything that a trained recovery diver can do. Unfortunately this has led to many people getting hurt or worst, killed.
Second, the agency requesting the services, has no knowledge of the training required and will ask their people to do things that can and will get them hurt. This lack of training and the lack of understanding of the skills required have ended to many times with the same results, people getting hurt.
Most teams will train at least once a month and some have been together long enough to know what works in their area and what to expect. But what happens when the unexpected happens, do they call for help? Not very often, they will go in not knowing until they see it is beyond them and sometimes it is already too late. Very few teams have Hazmat personnel and those that do are there to clean up the divers and their equipment, not to stop or contain the problem. Hazmat containment is the first task that needs to be completed upon arrival. Once this is done the recovery is safer, easier and the diver knows what they are getting into as well as what they will need to complete the recovery.
The EPA states that eighty-six percent of the waters in the United States are not suitable for drinking. Ninety percent of the dive teams in the U.S. do not have the equipment to dive in contaminated water nor do they have the training to use this equipment. This practice has to stop; the training is available and in most cases inexpensive, the equipment is very easy to find and none of the excuses that have been used in the past can justify a person getting hurt or worse.
There are companies such as Diving Unlimited International that furnish dry suits and training for the small price of admission all across the United States and they feed you lunch. There are also many publications available that are full of information to help educate the dive team and their administrators.
Chantelle Taylor-Newman heads one of these publications, The Diver Medic and Aquatic Safety Magazine. This is an online publication which is full of great information and is available to everyone. Most people interested in this field will look online to find some type of training. There are a lot of great looking web sites that make it look like they are very experienced and fully equipped in every aspect of recovery diving. The old adage that any training is better than no training is not necessarily true. There are many that claim to have the ability to teach this subject, but in fact have very little experience or none at all. They are teaching you theory, something they learned from someone else or they read it in a book. The lack of practical application does not reinforce their instruction of theory. There are diving agencies that have allowed this to happen for far too long, for the sake of the almighty dollar. Never be afraid to challenge your instructor by asking who they are and what experience do they have in the field. If it sounds stupid you can bet it is. Never place yourself, nor allow yourself to be placed in a position that you are not fully trained and equipped for. There are good instructors out there. Look for them and do not settle for second best, it’s your life.
Standardization in the recovery field is a most. On day it may happen, but right now everyone feels that they have a better idea. Unfortunately the people behind the desk are making the decisions, not the one in the water. Let’s hope that someday it comes to pass and they have enough sense to listen to the right people. There will come a day when all of the experienced recovery divers are gone, before that happens we need to pass on that knowledge and experience to the younger people. I know that most of the time it is easier to do it yourself but if we do not start now, passing on that knowledge and experience, tomorrow may be too late. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work in this field, but take the time to learn the basics of the training and the level of skill required of a recovery diver before trying this endeavor. It may save us one more recovery.
National Training Director
National Academy of Police Diving