Naval Service acquires high-tech equipment that could save divers’ lives

The Naval Service has successfully commissioned two new state-of-the-art high-tech equipment that will be used to help rescue underwater divers who face potentially fatal decompression sickness.

The service’s diving department has purchased a small version of a 250 kg recompression unit, which can accommodate one patient and an attendant, as well as a larger 10,000 kg (10 tons) version. Up to eight people can stay here.

Lieutenant Commander Stephen Stack, the officer in charge of the Naval Service’s diving division, said the equipment will prove invaluable if a diver gets into trouble underwater, potentially helping to save their lives.

He explained that when someone enters the water, their body compresses. Their breathing is also compressed and if the decompression goes too fast (due to a medical incident or accident), a diver could potentially be in serious trouble.

“The analogy is like opening a can of Coke too quickly because it fizzes,” said Lieutenant CDR Stack.

“Bubbles (air) enter the bloodstream at best. Smaller ones go into the lungs and are exhaled. However, the larger ones can get trapped in the spinal cord or brain.”

“If they get into the brain, they can lead to stroke-like symptoms. This in turn can lead to unconsciousness and even death,” added Lt Cdr Stack.

The recompression units (RCCs) can address these problems.

The smaller ‘Transportable RCC’ can be taken on board a vessel, or on a platform or pier at the scene of a diving emergency.

Naval Service divers can activate the smaller recompression therapy unit at these ‘dive sites’, return a patient to the naval base at Haulbowline and perform a ‘Transfer Under Pressure’ to the larger RCC and complete the recompression therapy therein.

The officer pointed out that this allows for greater patient care, greater flexibility in diving activities and also greater overall safety for his own divers.

The units were purchased from a specialist Dutch company, whose technical experts recently visited the Naval Service headquarters on Haulbowline Island, Co Cork, to oversee the equipment being trialled by members of the diving department.

“The manufacturers sent people to oversee our training with the units. Everything went according to plan,” Lt Cdr Stack added.

The larger RCC is stored in a container at the naval base.

Like other specialist departments of the Navy, the diving department faces staff shortages. It is currently at 41% of the designated strength it should be.

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