For scuba instructor, diving is more than recreation: it’s public safety

Scuba instructor in standard full face mask.

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Even on the coldest days of winter, scuba diving instructor Nick Kouris is teaching, and some of his students go on to save lives. At the Berry Diver Center in Northfield, Kouris trains officers from fire and police departments to become public safety divers. “Scuba diving is one of the life-saving skills,” said Kouris.

Last year, rescue divers recovered 40 bodies of people who drowned in Lake Michigan, according to Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. Recovering evidence under water and rescuing people are the public safety diver’s job. These divers are trained with skills like diving in rivers, ice diving and navigating in low visibility to cope with difficult situations.

“They do not dive for fun, they dive for search and recovery,” said diving equipment technician Ahmed Mujthaba, who repairs public safety divers’ equipment.

“Chicago is pretty much the birthplace to the sport of diving,” said Kouris. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) — the world’s largest diving organization — was founded in Illinois in 1966. With the long winters and cold water in Lake Michigan, the city doesn’t seem like the best place to dive. However, because Chicago is a lakefront city with millions of people around the water, public safety is one of the most important purposes of training.

Photo at top: Scuba instructor in standard public safety diver’s full face mask. Jan. 30, 2018. (Tiffany Chen/MEDILL)