I’m going to start with a warning: THIS WILL BE A VERY LONG POST. Below is a video by Eco Dive owner Ron who was out with us at the beach and on the boat so you get an idea of what our days were like.
(coming soon…its not on YouTube yet and I can’t embed from Facebook!)
The PADI Rescue Diver Course is unlike any other dive course/ certification that I’ve taken so far. The first couple certifications you get in SCUBA involved reading a manual, watching a video, taking a test then going diving. There were skills to learn of course, but they were pretty simple and the bulk of the training was fun and relaxing.
Well Rescue has all those elements except the last few. The skills were challenging, there was very little diving and it was anything but relaxing. Other than all of that though it was the best training experience I have had so far. Tuesday we met for EFR (Emergency First Responder) and CPR training. Pretty straightforward, we watched a video, took a test and practiced the skills at the dive shop. Wednesday and Thursday nights were the classroom portion of the Rescue course, another (awesome) video, final exam and review of procedures and skills that would be practiced in the ocean and pool over the weekend. We were warned:
This will not be an easy weekend. Prepare to get your butt kicked and work really hard. Also, don’t plan on doing any actual diving.
With that in mind we left the dive shop late Thursday night. Our weekend schedule was meeting at 7:30am at Vet’s Park in Redondo Beach then moving to the pool at 1:00pm on Saturday. Sunday we had to drive up to Santa Barbara to head out to the Channel Islands on the boat, Conception.
This is where we lucked out. Saturday morning arrived and we met at the beach to find the usual swell basically non-existent. The water was lazily washing on shore then back out, sometimes without even a breaking wave. When waves did hit, they were light and at most, knee high. A major bonus, this meant that while working on rescue scenarios, exits and carries we would not also be battling powerful waves. Our instructor, Jessica, briefed us on the morning; we’d be suited up with snorkel gear and practicing shore based individual rescues. It sounds easy enough, but like most things, it was easier said than done.
First we started with carries, there are three main types, and a fourth “when all else fails” version. The three that are specified are the Packstrap (think of the person as a giant backpack with their arms as the straps), Fireman’s (victim slung over shoulders) and Saddleback (where you sling the person across your lower back). The last type of carry is very awkward and is pretty much impossible unless you are a burly woodsman carrying a tiny very thin girl out of the water, so we didn’t actually practice that one. Starting with the over the shoulder, the three girls in the class buddied together to take turns trying to throw each other over our shoulders. It was hard stuff, but we all got through it, and shuffled out of the water with one another on our shoulders. It wouldn’t have been as difficult if we were say… dry and not holding extra water in our 7mm thick wetsuits with booties, gloves and hoods….but its cold in California so thats how it goes.
The second carry seemed like it wouldn’t be that bad either, but I actually found it more difficult. I was carrying Elizabeth is who a little larger than I am. I got her on my back easily enough and began trudging out of the surf. It was fine until I got past the waist deep water and was now supporting most of her weight. My thick neoprene gloves didn’t allow me to keep a strong grip, and she started slipping. As I got more out of the water I hit the infamous “Redondo Lip” that I had forgotten about and down we went. Knowing I would not be able to get her up on my back again I flipped her over and began to try and drag her up the beach holding her wrists (the “if all else fails type of carry). Again, I was foiled by my gloves and my grip kept slipping! Not being able to do it alone I called for help and Carolyn helped me get her out of the water far enough to resume CPR. Not the best rescue, so I just hope if I’m ever in a real situation I can quickly remove my gloves (if alone) or that there will be people able to help me get the victim out of the water. After that we practiced the rest of the rescue on shore from getting the victim on the body board, administering emergency oxygen, defibrilating with an AED and preparing to move them for the EMS as needed. After a busy morning we broke for lunch.
That afternoon we met at the pool for more scenario practice. We practiced approaching both tired and panicked divers, and I felt good when as a panicked diver I was able to lunge at and catch classmate James who got just a little too close. He reacted perfectly though by deflating his BCD and sinking into the water where a panicked diver absolutely does not want to be. We practiced bringing an unresponsive diver up from the bottom, and discovered its not that easy to actually get their dead weight up off the bottom. We practiced assisting from “shore or a boat” ie: the pool side, which included lifeguard exits…another skill I was not so great at. The lifeguard exit involves getting the person’s arm up out of the water, then holding onto them while climbing onto the deck (most likely still with flippers on) then grabbing both arms and pulling them out of the water. I was pretty successful on my first try, but had alot of trouble on round two, when I could not get my victim’s (classmate Sebastian) body to flip over so that I could get his arms up on the deck properly. I did eventually but only with his head in the water which breifly was not supposed to happen…so much for airway protection on that one! Finally we ended the pool sessions by rotating through a circuit of a real rescue scenario…starting with pulling someone off the bottom and ending with EMS arriving. Our group was able to get into a good rhythm and at the end of the day we felt confident about completing that same circuit out on the boat the next day.
Saturday night most everyone met up in Santa Barbara and spent the night on the boat. The next morning the plan was to run through “unresponsive diver at the surface” scenario several times while rotating through the roles. I was able to act as victim, rescuer, AED operation, and airway control (the breath portion during CPR). We worked smoothly and efficiently even when faced with a problem like the fact that the boat had a swim step a half a foot underwater then the regular platform and finally stairs that we had to get the limp victim up before being able to begin CPR or finish out the exercise. We discovered it was not that difficult to be able to lift the person up the stairs and straight onto the body board.
Just a little bit after we had finished this circuit and were being debriefed by Jessica there was a real emergency. Just off the boat a diver surfaced and just floated face down in the water… something was wrong. Stunned at first, our group then sprung into action and was able to bring the diver back into the boat quickly and start the CPR process. Of course, as we quickly figured out this was all staged as a way to catch us off guard and really get the feeling of a true rescue.
The day ended with a quick search pattern for missing divers, and we still had enough time to get two enjoyable dives just for fun! All in all this was the most exciting and worthwhile class I have taken and I really recommend it to every diver out there. There is just so much that can happen while diving, and there are many details that are important during a rescue that having the skills to be able to handle an emergency situation is crucial when seconds count.