Dive school prepares Corps of Engineers for high-risk projects

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Published Oct. 13, 2016
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District Safety Manager, William Pioli (left), and Engineer Diver Brian Dockstader (right) recently completed dive school at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, TX.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District Safety Manager, William Pioli (left), and Engineer Diver Brian Dockstader (right) recently completed dive school at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, TX.

Two employees from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District staff recently completed dive school at the Sonny Carter Training Facility at NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, TX. For Safety Manager William Pioli, taking the one-week course was a refresher course required for his position, but for engineer Brian Dockstader, his three-week course provided specialized training to work on construction sites that require diving expertise.

For Mr. Pioli, the focus of his course was on ensuring that dive teams prepare and follow sound, comprehensive dive plans. A dive plan is required before a dive team is permitted to perform work on a site.

“Diving poses an immediate high risk. Mistakes can easily become fatalities. No dive happens if a dive plan does not address all safety concerns. A dive plan must be signed-off by a designated dive coordinator or alternate, or a dive safety representative, (which is my role),” said Pioli.

The purpose of having a dive plan is to identify and minimize possible missteps in the process which could lead to a safety mishap.

“Intervening during a mishap has a critical timeline. Once in trouble, divers and their handlers have limited time to correct the problem or get the diver to the surface.”

While Pioli’s dive school experience involved about two-thirds classroom training and one-third personally observing simulated diving operations, Dockstader’s experience was approximately half classroom training and half in-water training, in the facility’s buoyancy lab pool. Most of the instructors, provided by AOR, Inc., were retired Navy divers with various expertise in areas such as saturation diving, salvage and explosive ordinance devices.

Diving experts are needed in a variety of underwater inspections such as dams, drinking water systems, waste water systems, levees, bridges, break walls, and harbors. However, diving was not required as part of Dockstader’s job as a mechanical engineer; he took the initiative to add diving to his skill set:

“What piqued my interest was being able to do a job that not a lot of people had the opportunity to do. I have had my SCUBA diving license for a few years and have enjoyed diving. Now getting to combine surface supplied air diving with my job that I very much enjoy is a win-win.”

The diving curriculum was extensive, covering the physiological effects that diving has on the body, and emergency response procedures including how to care for individuals after a diving mishap. Completing this training makes all divers on a team safer as each can care for a fellow diver should an emergency situation present itself. 

“You go to a training program like this thinking you know everything there is to know but you quickly learn you there is always something you didn’t know. I would like to see this type of training more frequently, like every two years instead of four,” added Pioli.

The Buffalo District is one of several other U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division districts that attended the training including the Chicago, Huntington, Pittsburgh, and Detroit districts. The Buffalo District is known Corps-wide for its world-class diving team and as a result, the district often partners with other districts. For example, Buffalo District Dive Team Coordinator Shanon Chader and his team recently spent a few days performing an inspection on the Summit Bridge in Summit, Delaware. Inspections in the near future will be performed in Pittsburgh at Berlin, Kirwan, and Mosquito Lake.