Rescue / Recovery Diver Course
(or How to spend your holiday trying not to damage a perfectly good corpse)

One of the interesting aspects of the cave diving community is the opportunity to be trained by experts in the field. When was the last time you took golf lessons from Tiger Woods or David Duvall? How about a basketball camp with Michael Jordan or Shaq? Not recently? I had the good fortune to take the IUCRR (International Underwater Cave Rescue and Recovery) First Responder course and the Rescue/Recovery Diver course on May 26 and 27 as part of the annual NSS/CDS workshop.

The IUCRR was formed in 1982 and it's Mission Statement is to support all Public Safety Agencies in the Rescue and /or Recovery in an underwater environment with a real or virtual overhead obstruction. The first Program Director was the late Henry Nicholson of whom so much has been written recently for his contributions to the cave diving community.

The classroom and in-water portions of the course were taught by Lamar Hires, the IUCRR Training Coordinator and Larry Green the IUCRR Assistant Director and Regional Coordinator for Florida. That is where my previous analogy to training by the pro's came in. OK, so maybe I laid it on a little thick, but as you know it never hurts to kiss up a bit around here! Cave Instructor John Jones and Debra Green were the surface coordinators for the accident scene. Debra also captured us for posterity as the photographer. Bob Janowski was gracious enough to be the victim. Many kudos to Bob! How can you have good training without a great victim ?

The other participants in the course were George Evans, Kent May, Jeffrey Miller, Scott Peters, Dawn Stewart and Al Taylor. The classroom work took place the morning of May 26, 2002 at the Gainesville Sheraton with the in-water work the following morning at Orange Grove in Peacock Springs State Park.

I went into the course with the expectation that it would be a great learning experience. I was not disappointed. Obviously the Instructors are very qualified to teach the material and have the benefit (for lack of a better word) of first hand experience in rescues and recoveries. The class was interesting, challenging, and as fun as you can make a course dealing with the subject matter. I walked away with something I was not expecting, primarily because I had not thought the matter all the way through. That is the gravity of the situation I could find myself in by being at the scene of an accident or coming across a victim in a cave. Who spends their time thinking about recovery situations anyway? Fortunately there is an organization that does.

By using their personal experience of past accidents to relate the material to the class, the instructors painted a very clear picture of what the responsibilities of a Rescue/Recovery Diver are. Thankfully some of the incidents had happy endings for all, but never the less it is not an activity to be undertaken lightly. There were several points that were made repeatedly to make sure we understood.

1 - "The guy with the gun is in charge" The IUCRR is there only to support the Public Safety Officials. The Authority in charge of an accident scene varies from region to region, but if there is a death involved it is almost assuredly becomes the province of Law Enforcement. The situation has to be treated as a crime scene until the cause of death is known. So as a reminder if you do come across a victim in a cave with no hope of a rescue, do not do anything to disturb the scene. By disturbing the scene you could be interfering with a criminal investigation and destroying vital information that the IUCRR requires to do an accident analysis. Take note of anything you can visually even if it is just the location and the condition of the area, then leave and activate the local Emergency Response system be it 911 or contacting a Park Ranger. They will activate the IUCRR.

2 - Do not do anything to endanger yourself or any other divers. Let the IUCRR organize the divers for the recovery based on location and conditions. They will choose an appropriate and qualified team(s) to respond.

3 - If you are an IUCRR Rescue/Recovery diver do not assume responsibility or respond to the scene unless you are prepared to commit to the entire operation, including completing the Accident Report. You may be in for a long stay and your commitment is vital to the continuity and the safety of the operation.

- Show respect for the victims family, friends, and dive partners. Do not speculate out loud on what "might" have occurred.

OK, now for the fun stuff. We all met at Orange Grove on Monday morning for the in-water portion. The instructors set up an accident scene consisting of a lost Open Water diver in Orange Grove. We were taught how (and how not) to bring a victim out of a cave after we had gathered all the pertinent information we needed for the Accident Form. They stressed how difficult it is to bring a victim out of a cave and the importance of communication and cooperation within the dive team (and darn it if they weren't right again)! Lamar Hires, Larry Green, and Bob Janowski entered the water to assume their roles as Evaluator/Safety and victim. John Jones and Debra Green coordinated the two person dive teams from the surface recording the logistical data of the teams and testing our observational and data recording abilities.

Luckily Scott Peters and I surfaced after our recovery with the same story and we stuck to it! Isn't that what a good dive buddy does?

Bob Janowski credited our class with being the gentlest yet while manhandling him. No permanent scars or lost/broken equipment. But I believe he did have some deco obligation by the time we cycled through all the teams. Thanks again Bob! The Orange Grove Gator didn't pay the course fees so he is still not certified as a Rescue / Recovery diver. Probably qualified, but not certified !

Thanks again to everyone involved in the course. There will be another course taking place on 24 November, 2002 in conjunction with the NACD Workshop for those of you who are interested. For more information on the IUCRR go to the website at You will find information on accident anlysis and Accident reports.


Jay Wells