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Public Safety Diving: What Is It Like to Do the Job That Makes Scuba Divers Heroes?

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When I accepted the challenge of writing about public safety diving (PSD), the first thing that came to my mind was the phrase that Master Chief Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro) says twice in the scuba diving movie “Men of Honor.”

I remember the second one perfectly. The two main characters are before the court that decides on Carl Brashear’s ability to continue working after losing a leg in an accident. The public safety diver must take 12 steps fully equipped with a suit that weighs more than 90 kilos/ 198lb and a prosthesis instead of a leg. About to faint, the master chief harangues him with these words:

The Navy Diver is not a fighting man he is a salvage expert. If it is lost underwater, he finds it. If it’s sunk, he brings it up. If it’s in the way, he moves it. If he’s lucky, he will die young, 200 feet beneath the waves, for that is the closest he’ll ever get to being a hero. Hell, I don’t know why anybody’d want to be a Navy diver!

I’m sure there are better definitions of public safety diving, but none place as much value on the divers who do this work.

This article is a tribute to all public safety divers, including the founder of Dressel Divers, Javier Ibrán, who worked for more than 10 years in safety diving.

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1. What Is Public Safety Diving?

Public safety diving refers to the practice of using divers to perform underwater search and rescue operations and investigate and recover evidence from underwater crime scenes.

A public safety diver performs diving work in situations that imply a risk to public safety, or what is the same: avoid events that disturb the order, prevent and suppress crimes, prevent substances or objects that may put the health of citizens at risk, etc.

They are typically trained to operate in a variety of challenging underwater environments and conditions, some of which are:

  • environments with little or no visibility (swamps, quagmires, cesspools, sewers)
  • strong currents,
  • public safety dive at night,
  • under the ice,
  • toxic waters or with parasites.

Therefore, these professionals are provided with specialized diving equipment.

Public safety divers need special training to help them perform their duties effectively and safely. Some examples of the types of situations that public safety divers may be called upon to handle include:

  • search and rescue operations for drowning victims,
  • recovery of evidence from bodies in criminal investigations,
  • rescue of missing persons,
  • anti-narcotics operations,
  • anti-terrorist interventions,
  • recovery of explosives.
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2. What Types of Public Safety Divers Are There?

There are several types of public safety divers. In general, most public security forces have diving units: army, police and other law-enforcement officers, firefighters, lifeguards, and emergency medical services, and in The United States of America, there are even volunteer public safety divers corps.

Often, they work in collaboration with each other.

Although there are different professional profiles, they have certain qualities in common, such as physical capacity, emotional resilience, and the value of cooperation and teamwork.


3. What Do You Need to Be a Public Safety Diver?

Physical capacity

As a result of the difficulties involved in public safety diving, professionals often have to swim long distances, counteract the force of the current loaded with heavy equipment, use full face masks to communicate, lift and carry materials, etc.

To achieve this and deal with as little stress as possible, they need excellent physical conditions, so they must train regularly. Therefore, public safety divers must perform cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training.


Emotional resilience

It is about a person’s ability to adapt and recover from difficult or stressful situations.

Ok, it doesn’t mean much, so let’s put it in context. In the Civil Guard of Spain, there is a public safety diving team called the Special Group of Underwater Activities (GEAS), the CEO of Dressel Divers worked on this team.

Once, two of his partners had to dive into a river with a strong current. They were looking for a lost child. In the search, one of them got trapped by a rock that fell in his path. The other had to proceed to release it underwater. The two men had to keep their cool despite the risk they were running.

Public safety divers often have to search for objects in complete darkness. They do it in small quadrants touching the ground with their hands. They can only do one thing: stay focused on the task.

4. How to Become a Safety Diver?

To become a public safety diver, you will need to undergo specialized training and certification. This type of diving is dangerous and requires a high level of skill and knowledge. Some of the steps you can do include:

  1. Obtain a basic scuba diving certification. Before you can start training to become a public safety diver, you will need to have a basic understanding of scuba diving and be certified to dive.
  2. Find a public safety diving training program. Public security forces often train their employees with continuing education programs. There are safety diving courses as well. Nonetheless, you can also access training programs privately. We will talk about them below.
  3. Complete the training program and earn your certification. The exact requirements for public safety diving certification can vary depending on the organization you are training with, but most programs will include a written exam and a series of practical skills tests.
  4. Stay current and maintain your certification. As a public safety diver, you will need to stay current on your training by participating in regular skill refresher courses.
  5. Get experience. One of the best ways to become a successful public safety diver is to gain as much experience as possible. This can include participating in dive missions, assisting with underwater search and recovery operations, etc.
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5. PADI Public Safety Diver Course and Other Agencies That Offer It

Several organizations offer public safety diving training, such as  SDI,  NAUI, the PADI Public Safety Diver Course, and the Public Safety Diving International (PSDI). These programs will typically include both classroom instruction and practical training in the water.

Any of these courses cover a wide range of topics, including dive planning and organization, diving in low visibility conditions, conducting searches using various patterns, and more. It also includes a number of practical skills tests to ensure that students have the knowledge and ability to perform the tasks required of a public safety diver. Upon successfully completing the course, students will earn the PADI Public Safety Diver certification or other, which will allow them to practice public safety diving worldwide.