Michael Gast, NAPD President

If you have ever wondered where and when police diving began, you are in luck. Because I know the who, what, where, when, why and how. WOW! That sounds like an investigative technique. But before you can arrive at the correct answer you must first have a proper question. You must define police diving and establish the criterion for that definition.

There are many individuals and agencies that could lay claim to police diving beginnings but there is only one individual and agency in which the claim is valid. Before we go there however a brief history overview is necessary.

  • Hard hat (Helmeted) surface supply diving began in the 19th century
  • SCUBA diving began in 1943 when J. Cousteau and H. Gagnan developed the regulator
  •  Z served in the US Navy from 1948-1957 as a salvage diver/surface swimmer SCUBA diver
  • “The Silent World” by J. Cousteau published in 1953
  • Swimming pool owners associations offer skin diving training 1957
  • Sea Hunt aired on television in 1957
  • Z joined the Dade County Sheriff’s Office in 1958 and was assigned to the rescue squad
  • Z begins training other rescue squad members and establishes a police diver standard
  • Connecticut State Police Send volunteers to US Navy dive school in Groton Conn. 1959
  • YMCA begins skin diving instruction in 1960 with PADI and NAUI close in the running
  • Michigan State Police begin training for police divers in 1961
  • Z conducts graduation ceremony for first police divers in March 1961 (Police Diving Curriculum)
  • NYPD begins using police divers instead of commercial divers in 1967
  • Dive Rescue International coined the phrase Public Safety Diver in the 1970’s

Z who is Edwin Blaze Zehnder left the US Navy and joined the Dade County Sheriff’s Office in 1957, and because of his SCUBA diving knowledge, skills and abilities (attitude), when he graduated from the police academy in 1958 was assigned to the Rescue Squad. Z began the proper training of the other members of the rescue squad and it was soon apparent that his knowledge skills and abilities (attitude) aided in advancing the capabilities of the whole squad.

In 1959 Z and another deputy recovered a drowning victim and administered mouth to mouth resuscitation. Several days later both he and his partner were diagnosed with spinal meningitis. The other Deputy died, while Z was left more or less deaf with only 10% hearing in one ear.

While recovering in the hospital Z was approached by his Bureau commander and asked to create a training standard and manual for underwater search & recovery.

Writing a manual was a daunting task for Z, who had to leave school after 8th grade to help in his family’s business. He later earned his GED in the US Navy.

Z took the challenge and was able to produce a first rate Police Diver training manual with hand drawn illustrations and a standard of training. Something to consider is the fact that there was no PADI, NAUI, YMCA or any recognized Diver training agencies at this point. He had to draw from his US Navy training and skills he developed as a police diver.

In March 1961 the Dade County Public Safety Department (formally Sheriff’s Office) graduated six police divers who were trained totally in house utilizing a Police diving curriculum and standards. One of those Police Divers was Joseph N Johnson, who remained on the Underwater Search & Recovery Squad as a full time Police Diver until he retired in 1992.

Z continued to serve as officer in charge and lead diver until he retired in 1989 when he passed the mantle to the National Academy of Police Diving. His dream was that one day all police divers would be trained to a common standard and methodology in underwater search and recovery. The NAPD which began in 1988 with Z as a founding member continues to share his vision.

Remember, it began with a Z.

Edwin Blaze Zehnder (Police Diver 1958-1989),

The Father of Police Diving

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Author: admin