When it comes to recovering a body underwater, you don't really know if you have what it takes until you actually recover one. I have seen many public safety divers come to the surface on the verge of active panic after touching a body for the first time. You can train for years practicing with a Rescue Randy or other underwater mannequin in different environments and visibility. But nothing can take the place of the real thing. That's the moment of truth.
When you think about it, how can you train someone to be able to touch and handling a real dead body underwater? When you come in contact with one in real life, you're usually alone, you're caught up in the emotion of the recovery, you can't usually see them too well if at all, and when you touch one, they seem so.... dead! It's almost spooky. What's worse, sometimes they're in different states of decomposition which means now they could be slimy and falling apart. Gross! How do you train someone to handle that? Mentally, it's so different than anything else we do as recovering divers. The fact is you either have the ability in you or you don't! You either can do it or you can't!
Many public safety divers never get a chance to make a body recovery throughout their entire career. Let's face it, we're not making body recoveries everyday and when one does come along, we might not be the one on call or the one that even gets into the water that day. This could go on for years before you are ever given the opportunity if at all.
ATTENTION! You don't actually have to make a body recovery to know if you would like to or not. We need to be honest with ourselves. I know we're all tough and we can do anything and nothing effects us emotionally or physically. But, I'd rather tell my team members that body recovery was something I'd rather not do, than go on one and come to the surface screaming or quit the team after a body recovery because I was having nightmares.
If body recovery isn't for you, does it mean you should turn in your flippers? Of course not! Does it mean you lose your membership in the National Underwater Toughness Society (N.U.T.S.)? Nope! All it means is that you don't want to be the diver making the body recovery -- that's all. Being honest with ourselves is part of being professional. Our primary responsibility is to the mission and we are obligated to ourselves, our team, the victim and to the victim's family that the recovery is conducted as professionally as possible. If that means having someone else do the underwater recovery, that's what it means. What's the big deal!
Once you think you have it figured out, you find that there are different levels of body recoveries which challenge you even more emotionally and mentally like infant/children body recoveries, or recovering a badly decomposed body. These seem to be special types of recoveries because they bring with them a special impact on our already challenged psychological and emotional state.
So, why do we go underwater and recover dead bodies? The answer is simple, "We do it out of respect for the victim and their family. We do it so the family can bring closure to a horrible tragedy in their lives that will not begin to heal until their loved one is returned and can be put to rest. That's why!" We might poke fun at this subject, but seriously, I am deeply honored to be a part of a body recovery. I understand how important it is to the family that their loved one be recovered and returned to them. Does it mean I'm successful every time? No! It means I care about what the family is going through and I understand the importance in what I have been asked to do. It means when I'm involved I'm going to give it 100% and put everything I know, all my training and abilities into the recovery.
So, how do we do this thing called body recovery? What's the answer? Is there a magical pill you can take? I wish there were! The answer is found within ourselves and the training we have received. UCI can teach you one part of the formula, the "how" by giving you the skills, knowledge and abilities to respond correctly and professionally when you're involved in a body recovery. The other part, the "if you can" is up to you.