Avalon Mayor Bob Kennedy and Capt. Douglas Fetteroll, commander of the Avalon Sheriff’s Station, at the dedication of the emergency phone.
Avalon Mayor Bob Kennedy and Capt. Douglas Fetteroll, commander of the Avalon Sheriff’s Station, at the dedication of the emergency phone (photo by Ken Kurtis).

On Saturday July 21, 2012 the USC Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber, City of Avalon, and the Santa Catalina Island Company dedicated the installation of an emergency phone near the Avalon Underwater Park at Casino Point. The installation of this phone, the culmination of a cooperative effort, will help reduce the time to notify Avalon and LA County Emergency Medial Services (EMS) of a SCUBA diving accident, or any other emergency in the area.

The Avalon Underwater Park, next to the landmark Casino on picturesque Catalina Island, is prime destination for California scuba divers and is probably the single most-heavily dived site in California. Given its popularity and the sheer number of dives done each year it is not surprising that the Park has also been the site of SCUBA diving accidents over the years.

One such accident, a fatal one, occurred on a Wednesday a few years ago. During the subsequent investigation it that was discovered that bystanders trying to aid the victim had trouble contacting EMS because no one had a cell phone handy and there was no public pay phone nearby. From this discovery came the thought that EMS could be summoned faster if there was an easily-accessible emergency phone that, with one push of a button, would be able to make the call.

In an attempt to alleviate the EMS notification delays experienced in this case, the USC Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber agreed to purchase an emergency phone to donate to the City of Avalon. The Island Company agreed to install the phone near the top of the stairs at the Underwater Park. The City of Avalon agreed to install the power and telephone line and maintain the phone. Finally, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Avalon Station agreed to have the calls routed directly to their 911 dispatcher so that Avalon Fire, Harbor Patrol, and the LA County Lifeguard Baywatch Paramedics could be promptly mobilized to respond.

On Saturday, July 21, during the Sheriff’s sponsored Gold Star Dive, the phone was officially dedicated and accepted on behalf of the City by Avalon by Mayor Bob Kennedy. The phone now stands as a silent sentinel, ready to provide a vital communications link between a diver in distress at the Park and the local EMS.

In the event of an emergency, any bystander can go to the phone and push the large red “HELP” button. They will immediately be connected via speakerphone to the 911 dispatcher, who will dispatch rescue personnel and continue to collect pertinent information. And while scuba accidents, let alone fatal ones, are generally rare, quick reaction by emergency responders can, in many cases, mean the difference between life and death.

The activation of the emergency phone is a shining example of how co-operation through various private and public agencies can help improve diver safety and increase the chances of successful outcomes in the case of a diving accident. Although officials hope – in a perfect world – that the device would never need to be used, they also know that, realistically, not only will it be used, but it may also save someone’s life.