My friend Bob Sharp is the assistant chief of the Charleston, WV Fire Department. As a diver, one of his greatest passions is the dive team. He ran the team until his latest promotion when he had to step aside and turn the daily activities over to Jeff Showalter. He is still closely involved, though.
All too often, the dive team is called into service around town. They recover cars, evidence and occasionally bodies from the Kanawha River. While they train for rescue missions, anyone who knows anything about Public Safety Diving knows that isn’t a very likely scenario.
Not long ago, Bob asked me to look over the dive team’s SOGs, or standard operating guidelines. At DAN, I had been asked to do that sort of thing from time to time or to offer safety guidance for dive operations. I even got a chance to do that once at Disney’s Living Seas exhibit. That was one of the best dive operations I’ve seen. They take visiting 100s of divers into the main exhibit each week without a mishap. I ended up suggesting a couple things they could change and they were very happy with my advice. I’m only bringing that story up to say that after going through the Charleston Fire Department Dive Team’s SOGs, I didn’t find anything that I would change. I could have nit-picked this or that, but it was an impressive document. These guys know their stuff.
Earlier today, Bob asked me to come and see a collaborative training session they were putting on with other dive teams in the area. The Saint Albans Fire Department Dive Team came up as did the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department. The event was sponsored by Divers Training and Supply. The equipment manufacturer Interspiro brought in their surface supplied dive gear for the divers to try out. Pete Corbett from Divers Training and Supply also had DUI Dry Suits and Fisher Metal Detectors on hand for the divers to see. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dive with them because I’m not part of the dive team.
Seeing different dive groups like this working together, of their own initiative, was great. From time to time different dive teams have to work together and it is extremely important that these divers are on the same page. There is nothing about Public Safety Diving that is easy. These divers are in a current with zero visibility struggling to find something missing on the bottom. It is physically taxing and mentally stressful.
My hat is definitely off to Bob Sharp, Jeff Showalter, Pete Corbett and the Charleston Fire Department Dive Team for putting on an event like this. They train monthly on their own, but said they planned to work together at least once a year. I’m impressed. And hopefully, one day, I’ll figure out a way to get in the water with them.