Why do you want to be a PSD?
(Credit to Mark Phillips of PSD Divers Group)
As a member of a dive rescue and recovery team, it becomes important to decide why you are there. There is no glory in body recovery work and there is very little if any, attention paid to evidentiary search and recovery. Most all dive teams are made up of divers who volunteer for the duty. They work for a fire department or with law enforcement as a general rule and diving is added to their normal workload. There is usually very little budget provided for equipment or training. Some teams require their members to provide their equipment. Training is not always a priority for the agency so it can be put off easily. So, with a picture of PSDiving as bleak as this, why do you want to do it?
There is not enough work to create a commercial business and the type of work is not suited to ‘city to city travel’. In a body recovery, when you do your job to the best of your ability, you retrieve a dead body. In a majority of instances, you do this work in zero visibility water with a nasty, muddy bottom and you are feeling around for something you would most likely avoid on dry land. So why do you want to do it? Is it because you want to save lives? In reality, a dive rescue and recovery team very rarely has the opportunity to save the life of an individual who is submerged. The majority of work performed by a dive rescue and recovery team is recovery in nature.
There exists in all of us a desire to help those who are suffering. There are those individuals who perform the duties of a firefighter, paramedic, or law enforcement officer who are willing to go to the next step. They will do what others will not and they are rarely recognized for the work they do. There is no glory in recovering the dead body of a 13-year-old child. A quick mention on the nightly news, or maybe a three-sentence paragraph in the local paper will be all the recognition you can expect. If that is the kind of glory and recognition you want, you are picking a field of work that will very much disappoint you.
The parents of the 13-year-old child could care less about the newspaper or TV news. Their child is underwater. If you do not find their child, their only option is to hope that the child decomposes enough to float to the surface and is spotted before the body is lost. Put yourself in their place; if it were your son or daughter, what memory would you want? The mother’s teary “thank you,” and the father’s somber handshake, that is all the recognition you can hope for. Will you do it for that? The satisfaction of knowing you have helped another person put closure on a tragic event may be all you get.
But then there is the other side, a much darker side of drownings. How do you know the drowning was an accident? A mother cries about her lost child and gains the sympathy of the responders and is given the benefit of doubt when her story doesn’t quite fit the physical evidence. The discrepancies are attributed to her stress and anxiety. How do we know she is telling the truth? In 1999, at least four cars “accidentally” rolled into a body of water resulting in the deaths of children every time. No less than two were later proven to be homicides. The ability to at least consider the incident a potential homicide gives the responders an edge. Recognition and preservation of the area as a crime scene are vital.
CRIMINAL HOMICIDE. (a.) Murder and non-negligent manslaughter: The willful (non-negligent) killing of one human being by another. Deaths caused by negligence attempts to kill assaults to kill, suicides, accidental deaths, and justifiable homicides are excluded. (b.) Manslaughter by Negligence: the killing of another person through gross
It will be the efforts and attention to detail of the public safety divers that tear apart the lies and deceptions of those who would attempt to hide the evidence of their crimes in water. You may be called to recover a body or evidence that was used in a crime. It may be that the only link to the killer is the evidence you recovered and preserved because you did your job the right way. As you progress through this book and beyond, your capabilities and effectiveness will expand. Your efforts may mean the difference between a criminal going to jail or walking free. Or, you may allow a grieving family the ability to give a loved one dignity in death.
Be Warned. You may never be able to voice a true reason for doing the work you will be undertaking. You may not last. Teams who perform a lot of body recovery work usually have a small core of long-time members and a continuous stream of transient team members.
Critical Incident Stress Syndrome can play a heavy part in all of the body recovery work you will do. If you are not willing or able to recognize signs of depression or anger that could stem from the work you are doing as a part of a Dive Rescue and Recovery team, you better hope someone else can. CISS, CISD, and PTSD are real things and do happen whether you know it, believe it or not.
If you are a gung-ho, go anywhere, or where, do anything, full speed ahead person, you may be dangerous as a rescue and recovery diver. The ability to work, as a team is critical to the safety of every individual involved in a mission. Every step of a dive mission must be planned and worked as a team effort; not an individual effort. A risk factor must be placed on every move the team makes. There should be no individuals working at a dive site only the team. Every mission is a team function and every member is dependent on everyone else. Individuals who exhibit little regard for teamwork or team training may forge ahead when problems crop up and challenge a situation with force. If they get into trouble, the mission is jeopardized and the lives of other team members can be put on the line.
If you decide to become or remain a Public Safety Diver, you will eventually develop a reason. Changes will occur within the team as well as your agency that will challenge your dedication. At the end of the day, when all the gear is clean and stowed away, you will always know that the job you perform is extraordinary. Your skills, training, dedication, and fortitude make you, the Public Safety Diver, unique.