Why should you become a public safety diver?

Over the last two decades I have been questioning myself, every time I was called out to recover a body from the seafloor, from a wreck, or simply finding a lost item in a muddy pond or ocean floor.

My job sometimes takes me to remote places. In Pakistan, after a boat capsized on the Indus river, a carcass from a goat and a cow floated past our divespot whilst a baby and 12 passengers were missing, presumed dead and on the bottom of the lake. This makes you think. Besides the loss of life, what happens if this water comes into my mouth, eyes or enters my breathing equipment.

The final incentive was during the Thai cave Rescue where 12 young football players and their coach became trapped miles inside a complex cave system. 10.00 volunteers, military personnel and specialists were on-site. Communication was the first and biggest challenge, not the raging mud. Later the scope changed, and the focus was on getting the children out safely through water filled passages.

There are times when the experienced diver is called upon his or her experience to help out the local authorities. Happy and honored to be of use, the diver jumps into the water without questioning the hazards the water or site poses to the diver, moreover, what is the diver looking for? A lost item in a clean water reservoir? Or a pond with sewage from a nearby farm seeping in? Is an entire family trapped in a car on a riverbank after a flood or is the diver searching for a missing person? 

Decomposing bodies carry a wide range of harmful bacteria from which the public safety diver needs to protect him or herself. 

Once you find the body or object, how to proceed, recover, report?

ERDI courses

This is when the public safety diver’s training steps in place. Diving is one thing, documenting and communicating is another. If it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen.

You don’t need to be a bodybuilder or veteran, a healthy mind in a healthy body and standard diving swimming skills are all that is needed. For 90% of the cases, a standard drysuit and full-face mask is the only equipment needed to perform the diving activities. However, if you are in a high-risk environment, the courses will train you to become a full HAZMAT helmet diver compliant with the highest industry standards. ERDI is an ISO(international standards organisation) and OHSA (Occupational Health and safety Association) certified training agency.

Public Safety diving is a dynamic discipline as the industry reviews its materials, techniques and standards on a yearly basis. This happens through regular in-field training and review of the success or failures of past operations.

Being an ERDI diver does not mean you have to go out and buy a ton of extensive equipment; a secondhand rubber dry suit and full-face mask, tried and used during your course, will cover most scenario’s. 

Our planet is for 70% covered with water. The chances that an individual or group becomes trapped or endangered in water is quite realistic. Sadly, mainstream rescue services only have a small team of divers at their disposal, with limited abilities to make long and or deep dives.

As global warming is becoming more obvious, so do Hurricanes, and freak storms as they become more frequent; in the last few years, south east Asia alone saw a multitude of aquatic accidents and disasters that needed the help of rescue and public safety divers.  

The sinking of the vessel Phoenix off Phuket, Thailand, cost the life of 48 passengers. Sadly, most divers that were hired were untrained for this scenario and one diver died where another one suffered DCI. Repeated hurricanes in Philippines leave entire city area’s flooded and local emergency teams do not have the equipment of know how to dive and search for missing persons.

The cave rescue in Thailand demanded a large team of cave experts, but also a lot of inexperienced volunteers were deployed, sadly one did not make it out. 

Emergency Response Diving International strives to train and prepare the accident hero or the seasoned firefighter in just that; be prepared when disaster strikes or simply be the right hand of law enforcement.

Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) is a US based training agency that has grown as the largest public safety diving agency worldwide. They are ISO accredited and ERDI programs are both Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliant. Many of the ERDI programs can be taught at several levels in accordance with NFPA guidelines. The level of participation in the practical portion of the course will determine the final level of certification. The classification levels are: Awareness, Operations, and Technician. All ERDI programs are available to public safety professionals regardless of their position within a department.

What’s in it for you? 

Many experienced divers enrolled in the ERDI programs have never come in contact with a disaster, aquatic emergency or any of the above, yet, they keep their training skills up and make sure their equipment and mindset is prepared at all times. That’s correct, a prepared diver is worth more than a diver who stopped all training after their open water course. Fact is, the chance that you will end up in less favorable conditions during your diving career is quite realistic; bad visibility, rip currents, remains of a long-lost diver. This is where the ERDI program comes in. If you enjoyed your rescue diver program, then the ERDI program is an excellent addition to your general diving education.

The candidates should be cautioned that Public safety diving, although most procedures are the same, is not be compared to recreational diving. It probably comes closer to technical diving, but without the scope of looking at fish.  A public safety diver has an objective which usually separate from the aquatic realm. Sightseeing becomes recording and visibility becomes a luxury. You’ll learn to embrace darkness and gradually start to improve your dexterity and hearing, this phenomenon of surrender seems to give the diver more focus on what’s going on inside his/her body and mind; heartbeat, breathing pattern, focus and speed. Missions can be long, and the pressure can be both physical as mental. Hence, the training has a part reserved for aquatic/physical training and survival techniques.

The best part; your colleagues help you gear up. You don’t have to do anything. They’ll even wash your gear for you.

Being a public safety diver not only makes you an accomplished diver, it also increases your credibility as a diver and as an individual. Paid or non-paid, a public safety diver is a person who voluntary enrolled in a taxing course in order to offer his/her services t the well-being of the general public. If karma building exists, this may be your first building block.

Responsibility

Make no mistake, besides all the good parts there are also the serious parts. There may be glory once and all other times bring tears. You’ll meet real people with real feelings. A public safety diver should always enter a site with a positive mindset without being reckless. You will have a responsibility that might be too light or too heavy for you. Believe you can, believe you can’t either way you’re right. Don’t become a statistic whilst putting even more rescuer at danger.

How to start?

Prerequisites and Duration Public Safety Diver level 1:

  • Minimum 18 years
  • Open Water Diver
  • Current CPR and first aid certification & oxygen provider certification
  • Course takes 4 days
  • No decompression diving to 18 meters