I Remember When
By: Paul W. Wittmer

This was first published in the Tinosa Blatt, August 1981

It was summertime in 1948 and I was attached to the Sub School Staff at New London at the Escape Training Device, commonly known as "The Tank".

We would usually put a new class or two through their lessons and escape routines in the mornings leaving the afternoons with some leisure time. Next to the Escape Training Device, the deep-sea divers also had a facility for training divers utilizing helmet and suit. Within their building they had a relatively short tank, about 20 feet high with a platform on the top and ports in the side of this tank. In addition to this indoor tank they had a barge which was used for diving in the river or out in Long Island Sound.

A hard hat student would be fitted out in a suit, breastplate, helmet, weighted shoes and lead belts for a total of 196 pounds of extra weight.

He would then be put into the water, either the tank or directly into the river for his training dive. When utilizing the tank the novice would be assisted into the water to descend a ladder only to confront a problem. The problem situation usually consisted of welding or burning steel or fitting some pipes and flanges together in a specified configuration. To make the training more interesting the student would be obliged to wear divers mittens, which were made of stiff heavy materials. All the time in the tank, instructors would observe through the ports as well as from above.

A friend of mine, Joe who also was an instructor at the Escape Facility and I talked the staff at the deep-sea facility to give us a go at hard hat diving. They agreed.

My dive was set up in the river alongside the dock and was uneventful. The thing I remember most was the feeling of really being alone when that little window was shut right in front of my face. I reached the bottom and promptly sank up to my waist in soft mud. Visibility was less than two feet and I also recall being startled when a crab darted across my faceplate. A few days later it was Joe's turn.

Joe was fitted out indoors and his problem was to assemble a pipe problem within 30 minutes in the tank and with mittens on.

Joe was a friendly guy and was prone to teasing the old Chief who ran the deep-sea Diving Operation.

A deep-sea diver has a valve inside his helmet by which he pushes with his chin or pulls with his teeth; he also has a valve located on his breastplate. By these valves he can control the air pressure within his suit to maintain proper buoyancy. Too much air within the suit makes you float off the bottom.

Joe was having considerable difficult his dive, especially controlling his buoyancy ... he kept getting lighter, and floated off the bottom. He was determined to solve the plumbing problem and concentrated that aspect of his first hard hat dive.

Unknown to Joe at the time, the old Chief was slowly draining the tank all this time, (thereby reducing the water pressure on his suit). When the water level reached Joe's face plate, he finally realized that he had become the butt of a prank.

Sketch #22 by Monroe
Art work by Jack Monroe

Everyone had a good laugh later. Needless to say the instructors at the Escape Training Device never bothered the deep divers again as long as I can remember.