The vital mission of rescue and recovery divers was brought home forcefully when eight vehicles toppled through a gaping hole in the Queen Isabella Causeway at Port Isabel in the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2001. An 80-foot section of the 2.37-mile bridge collapsed when it was struck by a barge.
Divers at the site of the accident faced hazards, including poor visibility and concrete slabs bristling with steel reinforcing rods. The divers broke umbilical lines, and some divers were cut on the jagged wreckage.
Paul Powell of TEEX’s Emergency Services Training Institute confirms that rescue and recovery diving is a dangerous occupation. “These guys have to dive in the worst water possible. You can’t see. Sometimes we call it diving in black water.’ You are basically feeling your way along the bottom,” said Powell, who is a recreational diver and also a trained rescue and recovery diver. “You have to stay calm, cool and collected. A diver can become entangled, so you must learn to free yourself.”
Ensuring that rescue and recovery divers have proper training is important to Powell. And that’s why he was called on to coordinate TEEX’s new Emergency Services Diver class.
The students in the first class last summer were already EMTs, and this training gave them an additional emergency services diver qualification.
“We teach students to get to the scene, establish a search pattern and get a team in the water as soon as possible,” Powell said. “The survival rate of an accident victim is always better if you get them to an emergency room within an hour.
As areas around lakes become more populated, Powell believes there will be greater demand for this type of training. “If a city or county has lakes or waterways in its jurisdiction, it should also have trained rescue and recovery divers,” he said.