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Recommendations to Prevent Firefighter Deaths in Training Dives are Offered by NIOSH

July 26, 2004
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749

Recommendations are made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in a new report to prevent the risk of injury, illness, and death in training dives that prepare firefighters for search, rescue, recovery, and other missions that may entail diving.

Practical steps can be taken to prevent underwater entanglements, depletion of air supply, panic, and other circumstances that can put firefighters at risk of drowning, decompression sickness, lung collapse or lung damage, and other adverse effects, NIOSH stated.

“From investigations conducted by NIOSH, we know that serious problems can occur in training dives unless proper safeguards are established and followed,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “The new NIOSH report, the latest in our series of ‘Workplace Solutions’ bulletins, offers effective ways to prevent such risks, based on findings from our case studies.”

Among other safety measures, fire departments should set and enforce standard operating procedures for dive training, ensure that instructors are certified to conduct dive training, develop and use pre-dive checklists, ensure that divers maintain communication with each other and with personnel on the surface, ensure that equipment checks are performed on a scheduled basis, and provide divers with refresher training, NIOSH recommended.

Among further precautions, fire departments should ensure that backup divers are trained and available to rescue divers in distress, and that a medical unit is on site with oxygen for quick response in the event of an emergency, NIOSH also recommended. Training exercises should be conducted in a closed environment such as a swimming pool before attempting the exercise in open water, and divers should be provided with alternative back-up air supplies, NIOSH said.

Fire fighters should follow all standard operating procedures, maintain continuous contact with their dive partners, perform equipment checks before each dive, ensure that underwater teams operate individually to avoid entanglements in ropes, monitor their air consumption regularly, and consider performing at least 12 dives per year to maintain skills, NIOSH recommended.

“Workplace Solutions: Divers Beware: Training Dives Present Serious Hazards to Fire Fighters,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-152, also includes case studies and technical references to provide further guidance to fire departments and fire fighters. The document is available on the NIOSH web page at can be ordered at no charge from the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH.

It is the latest in a series of NIOSH “Workplace Solutions” documents that provide practical recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths, based on results of NIOSH research and other authoritative sources. Previous documents in the series are available through the NIOSH web page at