November 2012: Into The World of the Rescue Diver, Yugawara and Osezaki, Japan

Saturday November 9th and Sunday November 10th 2012

Becoming a Rescue diver is just that – learning how to rescue others underwater and at the surface.  Mention to a non-diver that you’ve been taught some rescue skills, and it feels good when they tell you how impressed they are.  But as Rescue divers, are we really 100% confident that we can put our skills to good use, jump in and save the day?

Designed to exert a considerable physical toll, the training consists of a pool session and two days in open water.  The course comes with a theory/knowledge section and a practical element.  The textbook and theory are vast, covering a variety of issues such as signs of stress, treating injuries, bites, stings, equipment, first aid, general health and safety and rescue skills, culminating in a multiple choice test of 75 questions and a quick group discussion on the correct answers.  The practical side consists of tasks like out-of-air emergencies, towing, lifting an unconscious diver from the bottom, removing a victim from the water and responding to panic.

The word rescue immediately conjures up the notion of saving and helping others but the number one rule a rescuer must understand is not to put their own safety at risk.  For example, a diver panicking at the surface, kicking and splashing around, can actually be hazardous so keep a safe distance and talk to the victim to identify the problem.  If the victim continues to panic, get below the surface so they do not lunge at you, pull off your mask or mouthpiece or push you underwater.  Then grab the victim’s legs or back of the BC, get directly behind them and inflate their BC. Both divers must be fully buoyant when above water and usually a slight reassuring touch or talking to them gently is enough.

If the victim is unconscious, lie them flat on the surface with BC fully inflated and check for breathing.  If there is no sign of this, remove the mask and mouthpiece, tilt the head backwards and begin mouth to mouth.  As you do this, you will need to tow the victim back to shore, and this is easiest when both victim and rescuer are not wearing their equipment.  Removing equipment must be done by the rescuer while towing and offering mouth-to-mouth.   The victim is then hoisted onto the rescuer’s back with their arms over the rescuer’s shoulders, while the rescuer carries them (like a piggy back) out of the water.

Other tasks, especially in the pool, are designed to test students slightly, such as breathing underwater with no mask for 60 seconds, swapping masks with buddies, turning off air and a bit of free diving practice – swimming down to 5m to pick up a 4kg weight belt and rescuing others by free diving as well.   CPR and oxygen administration are also part of the course, oxygen being the treatment of choice for decompression illnesses as it speeds up the elimination of inert gas from the tissues.

The two days in open water are both challenging and fun – constantly on the alert and suddenly being presented with various scenarios like panicking divers, general dives during which your buddy suddenly becomes unconscious and out-of-air situations, all of which make the student perform the skills learned in the pool and in particular react quickly and show a sense of urgency, not simply rescuing but also identifying the need for a rescue and deciding what needs to be done, why and by whom.  This is another challenging yet fundamental part of the course – knowing how to rescue, knowing the layout and other features of the area in which you will be rescuing, what tasks to give to which person and why.

Most new rescue divers, myself included, are not comfortable with the idea of jumping in and saving the day, in other words carrying out an actual rescue.  But the course is  good for increasing your comfort and confidence, and reinforces the idea that diving is also about being aware of your buddy, their equipment (keeping an eye on it, knowing where everything is, how you might remove it if required) and possible problems that could arise.  I was told that hopefully I would not need to use the  skills I learned for a very long time if ever, but in case I do, I know at least some simple things like how to support a victim’s neck while towing.  And that it itself made the whole course worth it.

(Many thanks to Osamu for his photos of the rescue course – fortunately he did not require rescuing!)

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