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Blog: Oct. 6, 2010
Technical Dive Team Completes Safety Rescue Training

By Robert Schwemmer
West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Coordinator

Greg McFall & Thor Dunmire preparing the Hyperlite Hyperbaric Stretcher & Treatment system on the upper deck of the R/V Fulmar. Photo Tane Casserley/NOAA Sanctuaries
Greg McFall & Thor Dunmire preparing the Hyperlite Hyperbaric Stretcher & Treatment system on the upper deck of the R/V Fulmar. (Photo Tane Casserley/NOAA Sanctuaries)
The technical dive team met the R/V Fulmar at the Bodega Bay loading dock at 1:00 p.m. today to start prepping dive equipment for Thursday's planned dive on Cordell Bank. As part of the preparations for the upcoming mission, the dive team ran through various rescue scenarios. Doug Kesling of The University of North Carolina at Wilmington/ Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) conducted a demo of the Hyperlite Hyperbaric Stretcher & Treatment system for the Bodega Bay Fire Department who would be responsible for emergency ground transportation of a diver that might suffer diver related illnesses such as decompression sickness or air embolism. The Hyperlite can be transported under pressure, equal to a dive up to a depth of 60 feet. While under pressure, nitrogen bubbles in the diver's blood system will dissolve over time. Even with the system pressurized, it's still mobile and the diver can be transported either by air or land. The Hyperlite can be setup on the Fulmar within 10 minutes, which is critical for early treatment that leads to timely full resolution of the sickness.

Doug Kesling sealing the Hyperlite Hyperbaric port as the chamber is pressurized. Photo Tane Casserley/NOAA Sanctuaries
Doug Kesling sealing the Hyperlite Hyperbaric port as the chamber is pressurized. (Photo Tane Casserley/NOAA Sanctuaries)
Now to properly demonstrate the Hyperlite unit, there must be a volunteer willing to take the dive, and in this case I was volunteered. Actually, I was a willing participant because God forbid I needed to use the chamber, I wanted to know what to expect. Initially I was put on a fabric stretcher, strapped in and hooked up with a breathing mask and communication system. I was then lifted and placed head first into the chamber part way, then pulled through from the other end. When I was positioned in the center of the chamber, acrylic ports were put into place at both ends.

Diver Robert Schwemmer enters the Hyperlite Hyperbaric Stretcher & Treatment system. Photo Tane Casserley/NOAA Sanctuaries
Diver Robert Schwemmer enters the Hyperlite Hyperbaric Stretcher & Treatment system. (Photo Tane Casserley/NOAA Sanctuaries)
Greg McFall, Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary Deputy Superintendent and part of the technical dive team, communicated each step of the process over the communication system, and checked on my progress through each phase. If you were prone to claustrophobia, you might have some difficulty dealing with this tight environment which ultimately would improve when pressurized. The chamber was then sealed and they began pumping air in that created some heat in addition to the ambient heat from the sun on the upper deck of the Fulmar. Just like making an underwater dive, you need to clear you ears as the chamber is pressurized. I was also asked to maintain the finger OK sign; this would allow one of the technicians to watch my progress through the acrylic port at the head of the chamber. After being pumped down to about 20 feet, the firemen then lifted the chamber to practice transporting the Hyperlite. The chamber was then slowly vented as I made my accent and opened so I could exit. It was a great experience and I now know what to expect if I ever need the chamber.

Simulated unconscious diver Russ Green is being raised up in the gurney off the stern of the R/V Fulmar. Photo Robert Schwemmer/NOAA Sanctuaries
Simulated unconscious diver Russ Green is being raised up in the gurney off the stern of the R/V Fulmar. (Photo Robert Schwemmer/NOAA Sanctuaries)
The next exercise was the unconscious diver recovery that was simulated by Russ Green, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Deputy Superintendent, and Thor Dunmire with The University of North Carolina at Wilmington/CIOERT. They are both part of the technical dive team and dressed out in their drysuits to make the plunge into Bodega Bay while taking turns placing the unconscious diver into the gurney that was lowered from the A-frame of the R/V Fulmar. Captain Dave Minard and 1st mate Hans Bruning of the Fulmar then used the winch system to raise the diver in the gurney from the surface of the water onto to the stern where further medical assistance would be administered if this was a true emergency.

It's reassuring to know we have such a highly skilled team to address a diving emergency and look forward to diving in the days to come.

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