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Are you, or are you thinking about being a PSD?

Discussion in 'Ideas and Stories' started by Gary D., Sep 3, 2004.

  1. Gary D.

    Gary D. ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Post Falls, Idaho
    If you are, or are thinking about becoming a PSD read on. If not I’m going to say some things that might disturb you. I’m going to focus on RECOVERY not the rescue aspect of the job as it covers the greatest numbers of PSD’s.

    First off let me say that I am very proud to be a PSD and I’m very proud of anyone who can handle the rigors of the job.

    It’s a profession where you can and should walk with your head held high throughout your community. But it is also a profession where you should not expect a lot of praise, glory or recognition for what you do. In-fact in most cases you will be left alone to deal with tragedy.

    Sure there’s support out there but is that enough and can you really get out what’s eating at you through a non-family member or a stranger.

    You might, and will more than likely, be placed in situations that are un-natural to our normal way of thinking and dealing with things. You may be called on to do things that would cause the majority of the population to toss their cookies and through all of it you need to be strong and professional.

    Why am I bringing this up?

    Well, after this last search and me joking (amongst us well out of the public’s eye) about finding the wrong person, I started thinking about how many times we have had similar surprises. It got me thinking on what it has done to people I know and have worked with over the years.

    A large percentage of my department, from the very top down, has been on the team at one time or another. From the time I joined this team in October 76 until now I would guess we have gone through over 75 members. Some are still with the department while others have moved on to other departments or even made carrier changes.

    For some teams going through that many may not sound like a lot but we are a team of 10 authorized in-house members. That is a huge turn around. The sad part is how many were active divers prior to the team and how few are active after leaving. Prior to being on the team everyone wanted to dive with us. After leaving the team all but two have sold their gear and quit diving all together.

    We have it made over volunteer teams. We don’t have to leave our normal course of employment to go on an operation, as this is a sideline of our employment. We get $.50 an hour for being a member. Most of our gear is supplied and maintained by the department and we have all the emotional support we need to cope with what we have to deal with at no cost out of pocket.

    Getting back to my joking about finding the wrong body. It turned out not to be a joke but a fact. We did find the wrong body. Unusual, not as much as one might think. Even though we were only surface support with some specialized equipment it is still a shocking experience when it happens.

    As a PSD you are called into areas to make a recovery of a possible drowning victim from earlier in the day. Remember that we are not talking rescue here. Just because you have a victim in the water doesn’t mean there isn’t a second or a third victim that has been there for a while and may or may not have been reported.

    So here you are using any variety of search tool and patterns when you come across a human form on the bottom. The lower the visibility the more dramatic this is going to be but you reach out and grab the victim you have located and the part you grab comes off in your hand. That human form you just located has just started to dissolve right before your very eyes.

    How do you handle it? It isn’t natural to see this happen to what once was a living, breathing, intelligent human being. It can turn even the strongest stomach when it happens to an animal so what is it going to do to you as a PSD when it’s a human falling apart in your hands?

    This happens more often in fresh water than salt, as bodies don’t last that long in the brine. We have had them down over 20 years and they looked like they just drowned. But when the boddies were touched they were the consistency of Jell-O that wasn’t totally set up and outside a mold.

    Those types of dives bug me. I don’t like doing them but I in the same breath I don’t mind doing them. Someone has to do it and I would rather do it than expose another member that doesn’t feel very good about doing it.

    What you won’t get me to is something a lot more natural. That’s an autopsy. NO way Jose. I can’t stand them and they freak me out. I’ve gone and did OK but my shin crawled for weeks.

    Now why can I do so well with one and not the other?

    I have just seen a lot of diving lives destroyed by serving short periods as a PSD simply because they weren’t ready. They never had it explained that they were entering into something that is so un-natural to deal with.

    I simply will not sugar coat this job and I will try and give you the worst I can. Not to be gross but to help you survive.

    Gary D.
  2. 6Gill

    6Gill Nassau Grouper

    Well stated Gary! I know in my own case of several years of PSD, I really got tired of the body recoveries. The thing that got to me was the high percentage of small children that were involved. I also did some commercial diving jobs that didn't do much to enhance the diving experience either.

    I wasn't doing a lot of sport diving during that time either and eventually due mostly to recoverey burnout, promotions and other duties (bomb disposal, swat) as well as a divorce stopped diving for quite awhile.

    I have enjoyed getting back into diving again, although I had to start all over again due to equipment changes, etc. I don't do a lot of cold water diving anymore, nor do I like to dive in rivers or lakes anymore. (Most recoveries in rivers and lakes.) I do like to dive in those great warm water destinations with 100+ foot visability, like Cozamel, Roatan, etc.

  3. Boater Dan

    Boater Dan Barracuda

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Western PA

    Excellent post. There have been a number of individuals on the forum who have inquired about joining PSD Teams. A lot of divers think that what we do is really cool! It is far from it. I have been exposed to crash victims, victims of suicide and violent murders, and also fire victims through my fire service experiences. The defense mechanism of the mind it to become cold to it, but it does not always work.

    To those individuals considering becoming PSD's, THINK about what you are going to be asked to do and deeply search to determine it is something you feel you can handle. The one aspect that I do not remember Gary mentioning is that this work is generally done in little to no visibility.

  4. Kayla

    Kayla Great White

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Washington (State!)
    Great post Gary.

    There is only one search that I have been on that really stand out in my mind, and its one that I didn't even dive on. Just a few of our divers went in on a helicopter (the only way to get to the lake withough packing gear for 10 miles). I stayed at base camp, with one other member who soon had to leave to go to work. (Real reliable I know.) The whole reason that this stands out in my mind however, is that the kids (he was 18) family was there, and they weren't sure yet if he was dead or alive. So, here I am at base camp, all alone, listening to the radios, with this kida family. I found a place where I couldn't be heard, and advised everyone that the family could hear everything that was said, and we came up with a code name. Well, all went great for about two hours ( I knew that the kid was dead, but the family didn't yet, we were waiting for an officer to tell them.) Then, an officer that had just come on duty radio's in and asks if the body has been recovered yet. All he!! broke lose. The parents lost it, his fiancee went off the deep end, and I'm all alone trying to explain why we didn't tell them sooner.

    That one will stand out in my mind forever... as not only one of the saddest days of my life... but the longest too.

  5. Desa

    Desa Solo Diver

    # of Dives:
    Location: Southern Indiana
    Well said.

    As any of us who have been there know, words can't describe that feeling of being in water so dirty you cant see a flashlight shining point blank into your mask, and reaching throug an open car window to do a sweep before you hook the wreckers cable to it.....

    One of the things that bothers me, is not so much the diving, its the surfacing and seeing all the bystanders trying to get a "peek" at whatever we are bringing up. Whats up with those people? What is so alluring with seeing the tragidy?

    Pardon me... I'm just venting.... Pulled a car out of the river Monday and when I surfaced, there was the typical crowd encroaching on the line...just p*sses me off sometimes.
  6. Kriterian

    Kriterian Solo Diver

    I guess I'll speak for the mindless masses since I'm not a PSD, but it's something I've considered for a long time.

    Everyone, deep down, has a morbid curiosity. Some people also have common sense and know to stay away as not to cause trouble. The ones that don't are the car wreck rubber-neckers, who smash into the back of someone else while they're staring at the damaged cars.

    I myself have an extreme morbid curiosity that I keep in check. I used to work in the Special Effects make-up industry and part of my job was cataloging burns/cuts/lacerations etc. This was so we could recreate them in television, film, and documentaries more realisticly .

    The sad part is, most of the time we couldn't use the real looking effects. People are more used to seeing crappy effects, and wouldn't believe a realism based wound.

    Anyway, I think you have a right to vent. You're doing an important job and these types of people should be held back. I'd probably be more interested in seeing a diver than a body though now, hehe.

    Keep up the good work.

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