A Life Support Technician (LST) is an integral part of a bell diving team. Bell diving (also called mixed gas diving and saturation diving) is diving from a closed bell using mixed gas hot water suits and is generally performed in very deep water.
The responsibilities and actions of an LST directly effect and control the lives of the divers under their care. The primary responsibility of an LST is maintaining an environment to sustain life within the saturation diving complex. This is quite a complex situation requiring high levels of expertise and care as the as the individual pressures of the various components of the gas mixtures can have very considerable physiological effects on the divers – the wrong mix can be lethal. The LSTs job includes appropriately maintaining oxygen levels, carbon dioxide levels, temperature & humidity. Constant monitoring of these, as well as the internal pressure (depth) must be undertaken to keep the divers safe and well.
There are three different categories of Life Support Technician including:
Life Support Technicians generally perform the following tasks:
Assistant Life Support Technicians are generally in training to become LSTs and require at least 2400 logged panel hours before becoming an eligible candidate to sit the examination for the position of LST (see Career Pathways below). ALSTs are restricted to the following tasks:
Life Support Supervisors have at least 2400 logged panel hours as an LST and have been able to demonstrate competence and suitability for the position through formal examination (see Career Pathways below). LSSs conduct the following tasks:
As mentioned above the primary responsibility of the LST to keep bell divers safe and well while working in a closed bell at depths down to 300m.
An ALST’s main responsibilities lay in having diver’s equipment ready for use when needed, organising and delivering meals & laundry.
An LSS has the same level of responsibility as diving supervisor. The LSS ultimately responsible for the hyperbaric evacuation of the divers within the saturation complex when on shift and they have off shift responsibilities for this evacuation as well. The LSS is must have managerial skills to control all the equipment, personnel and consumables used in saturation diving. The LSS is ultimately responsible for the divers within the saturation complex during a 12 hour shift as well the LST and ALST. The LSS also does the function of the LST and even the ALST. The LSS will also help train both the ALST and the LST in the skills they need for career advancement.
One of the challenges an LST/ ALST/ LSS faces on the job are to keep all the divers happy, healthy and safe during their time within the saturation complex. If mistakes are made lives can be lost, so thorough competence in, and understanding of, all the theory of saturation diving in combination with good clear communication skills (you may be working with divers of nationalities who have different accents and those accents are distorted by the effect of helium), good adherence to safe working practices and willingness to continually learn and improve your skills as an ALST/LST/LSS.
Long trips away from home in what are sometimes not the nicest of places, some saturation systems are older and are on older vessels. Often working in inhospitable climates e.g. very hot as in the middle east or freezing cold as in Sakhalin Island (Russia) or politically unstable areas such as West Africa. Other times the job can be on board more sophisticated vessels with more modern diving systems built into the ship itself. Work in Australian and New Zealand waters is usually of a higher safety standard and better working and living conditions than many other places.
Successfully meeting the challenges above and completing an incident free saturation where we all get to go home safely with the knowledge that a large pay packet will be forthcoming soon is one of the rewards of the job. In Australia an ALST earns in the vicinity of $1000/day, LST approx. $1300/day and LSS approx. $1600/day. Industry is on a casual basis so there is no pay during time off. Overseas rates will differ.
A good starting place is to be a commercial diver so as to have a grounding in diving and its particular requirements and hazards. Diver Medic is also a good qualification to have. A nursing background (particularly hyperbaric and or intensive care nurse) is an ideal entrance to saturation life support.
Students have to attend an IMCA-certified course with a duration of 10 days (ADAS will soon offer an LST course also). This course is classroom based and covers topics such as diving physics and physiology, tables for saturation storage, excursions, saturation decompression, emergency and therapeutic decompression, legislation (optional), gas handling, gas mixing and analysis, gas reclaim, gas management, saturation diving systems and their equipment, operating and emergency procedures.
A career path as an LST/ ALST/ LSS initially involves attending a recognized training course (currently IMCA and soon ADAS). After having successfully completed the course the new ALST has to find work and log 2400 hours of panel time. At the completion of the 2400 logged panel hours and demonstrated practical competence to his superiors, the ALST then gets a diving company (IMCA member) to put him forward as an LST candidate at which point he sits an exhaustive examination. If successful the qualification of LST is attained. Then having completed a further 2400 logged panel hours and once again demonstrated competence and suitability the LST may then be put forward by a diving company as an accredited LSS.
Thanks to Chris Laursen of TeamsT for contributing to this web page.