Meet Your Neighbor: Diving Deep
“I’m a diver. I do underwater construction.”
As simple as it sounds to say, it can be one of the most amazing, scary and thrilling occupations all rolled into one. For one Stuttgart resident it’s what has fulfilled his expectations in a job.
Brent Saranie, who grew up in Stuttgart, has now returned to start a family, but what he does when he is away is what makes one part of his life so interesting — what he does for a living.
He has worked on a multitude of things — all underwater — bridges, pipelines, nuclear plants, dams, drinking water intakes, boats, ships, salvage, steel and paper mills.
Saranie started his underwater career eight years ago when he decided to go to school for the occupation.
“I used to mortgage houses — went to college — mortgaged houses,” he explained. “I wanted to go find a way to make a living and see a little bit of the planet — see different things. And I wanted to come back one day and be able to tell my kids about it and go ‘that’s what I did.’ I scuba dove. I was spear fishing up in Hot Springs all the time and just picked up the phone book one day and asked how you get hired. They told me I had to go to school.
So Saranie did just that. He went to Houston and started at Ocean Corporation. It took 900 hours. They trained four days a week 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for seven months.
You can see the excitement in his eyes, the facial expressions and the ever moving hands as he tells about the things he gets to see — things most never see in a lifetime.
“My favorite part is seeing the things that you are going to work on — it’s cool,” he says. “You get to see cool stuff. You see robots that go down to 3,000 feet deep and turn bolts and video of the creatures that are down there. Just being around things that you don’t normally see. Another thing I like is working with people from around the world. You work with people from all over and dealing with the people every day — it is interesting, you learn a lot. It is fun, but at the same time, it is nerve racking.”
Another part of the job he enjoys is getting numerous days off, which everyone can relate to as being a good aspect of any job.
The only part of the job he said he could do without is being away from his family. He is recently married and also became a father, so he misses his family quite a bit when he is out on a job.
“Being away from family and that is about it,” he says. “Because it’s fun when she [his wife Melissa] goes with me — you know when we go inland — we have a blast.”
Saranie works for Veolia Special Services. The farthest place he has been for a job is Zhanjiang, China.
Like most occupations, there are different facets to the job. In Saranie’s case, there is different diving. The first is surface diving where you are breathing air.
“You can go down about 180 feet on that. At that depth, you have a 35-minute bottom time — on air. Then you have five hours of decompression. I wear my diving hat and a hot water suit,” he explains.
The hot water suit takes hot water from a heater above, which pumps down and disperses water around his body. It is not an enclosed suit, which means it flushes water out also.
Diving in nuclear plants
In a nuclear plant the diver wears a chiller suit and it’s a closed circuit where everything is being pumped back to the surface.
“That is a whole different ballgame talking about it and to see it,” he says. “The water acts as an insulator to protect your nuclear rods and to keep your radiation away from everything. Some of the tanks are 40 feet deep and they can’t drain them so they will send us in.”
The water is hot — 104 degrees — hot.
“So what your do is you wear an encapsulated suit, everything is sealed and the hat seals to the suit,” Saranie explains.
Your two options are to wear the suit or have your body packed in ice, although the ice doesn’t last that long.
After the initial 180 feet, helium is mixed with oxygen.
“Because we breathe 21 percent air here — air is toxic when your parcel pressure goes up,” Saranie says. “When the pressure on your body is forcing the oxygen into your muscles it becomes toxic and you can have seizures and stuff.”
The only downfall of mixing is the helium robs the body of heat in the body’s core temperature.
“So when you exhale it exhales all your heat. So they always make you wear hot water, you get chilled really bad. The deepest I have been on gas, jumping off the side of a boat, is 242 feet and I had a five and half hour decompression. I had so many hours in the water decompressing then I went into a decompression chamber.”
Saturation diving and the chamber
In saturation diving, which is what Saranie is doing now, he lives in a decompression chamber.
The chamber — the one he currently stays in —is seven and half feet in diameter and 20 feet long. There are six guys living there. The bathroom is bolted on and it is eight feet long and seven feet wide.
“Then we have what they call a bell — the bell is how we travel back and forth to work. The saturation system is bolted to the top of the ship so it is in the dry — everything is in the dry,” he says. “They press you down to the depth pressure and hold you there. When they want you to work, you crawl into the bell, it seals up with airtight doors and they launch it over the side or through the center of the ship.”
When the desired depth is hit, water will start to flood the bell and divers let the operators know that they need to stop to let the bell partners get ready.
“You tell them to stop and you lift the door up and tie it off,” he says.
There are two divers in the bell and they help one another get dressed to begin the work.
“He is your person,” Saranie explains about his bell partners. “Like, if you get an infection, or if you get burned or cut or if he has ear infection — you are putting the drops in his ears and he is helping you. I got burned the last time and he was putting the cream on me every night. Ya’ll are friends — that is your person. If you have to talk to somebody, if you have some issues that you need to go over, you have to discuss it with your bell partner — you have a very close relationship.”
The relationship has to be strong because they depend on one another.
“You put up with him and he puts up with you. We stay in there for 28 days and you work for 21 and then you decompress for seven. So it is seven days of sitting around,” he says.
The waiting time
Saranie says he can read a 400-page novel in one day. His last stretch he read a total of 12 books and finished a crossword and Sudoku book
“And we take movies down there and your PSP [PlayStation Portable] works down there and my phone works — I can text Melissa,” he said.
His food is brought to him, the toilets are flushed for him and the water is turned on for him.
“Everything is handled from the outside for you in there,” he says. “All your living is monitored.”
Do you get scared?
“Yeah, you’re not human not to get scared,” he said. “When you get below 500 feet, life changes.”
Practicing in school will teach you, he explains, but not like on-the-job training.
“You practice in school. Schools have different things, some dive in tanks because they can control everything, and some take you out to a bay. It is a good stepping stone but you don’t really get into it — most of it is on the job,” Saranie says.
When the diver gets below 500 feet, half his body will be cold and half will be hot.
“Below 500 feet is miserable,” he says.
At 650, he explains, it is like walking around breathing through a straw all day.
“What you do is open your suit up and break all this out [chest area] and let the cold water hit my chest and the cold water slows your heart down,” he says.
He is being monitored at all times and operators can talk with him. He has a beacon strapped to his back and GPS monitors his every move.
“They can see where you are walking, they know how deep you are, they know where the crane is, where the boat is, where the bell is and, I mean, they know where you are at and they can tell you everything you need to know,” he said. “You got to get in your mental mind like George Burke said, that depth is tough.”
During penetration diving, Saranie has found himself scared. Penetration diving has only one way out — the diver is inside a pipe. So no matter what, he has to get himself out of the pipe before he can be brought back up. Saranie’s longest penetration was 2,800 feet.
Where you have seen my work
Saranie had worked on Nuclear One in Russellville. He was also a part of constructing a bridge going across Tampa Bay. He also has worked on the Las Vegas water system. Currently he is working in China and will continue to work there for six, possibly seven, more years. Four oil platforms have been built, but the company wants 10 more.
When asked if he sees himself doing anything else in life, with a hearty laugh he replies, “maybe on my days off.”
Saranie lives with his wife Melissa and daughter Nadia in Stuttgart.