Former Cheswick man dives into the Hall of Fame
After 53 years and more than 6,000 dives, former Cheswick resident Dick Geyer has a reverence for the highly specialized job of commercial diving, but still speaks of his work with the excitement of a novice.
“It didn't seem like work to me,” said Geyer, 70, who is now an industry consultant. “I love my career and everything I did, (like) the challenges of working in zero visibility. It didn't matter whether it was winter or summer.”
Geyer, who now lives in West Sunbury, Butler County, was inducted into the Association of Diving Contractors International Commercial Diving Hall of Fame in December.
The award is considered the industry's highest honor and is given to an individual who has made significant contributions to the practice of commercial diving. The selection committee is comprised of Hall of Fame members.
Jon Hazelbaker, a commercial diving consultant from Fort Myers Beach, Fla., nominated Geyer for the ADCI Hall of Fame. The two work together as instructors for Army Corps of Engineers divers in Key West.
Hazelbaker said stories from Geyer's former students about the value of their training made a big impression on him.
“I remember being in a class of his and one of his return students stood up and talked about a dangerous dive situation he had been in,” Hazelbaker said. “And he said the training he received was the single-most thing that saved his life.
“I have heard that comment from several other of his students over the years.”
Geyer said he “had no idea” he would ever receive such a recognition. It takes several years and multiple nominations to be inducted.
“It's a major honor,” he said.
Geyer and his wife Beverly, both Springdale High School graduates, ran Professional Diving Services, Inc., a sport and commercial diving equipment and instruction shop, in Springdale for 40 years.
Geyer also taught scuba diving programs at the Allegheny Valley and New Kensington YMCAs.
A storied career
Geyer's first dive was in 1960 not long after he entered the Navy's diver training school.
“I remember descending in 10 feet of water and I was on the bottom looking at rocks. I couldn't believe I was picking up these rocks and I was breathing as I watched the rocks drift back to the bottom,” he said. “It was one of the most magnificent feelings I've ever had in my life. It's peaceful and serene, and you are totally alone and with your own thoughts.”
That dive was the start of a lifelong career in commercial diving in which he did underwater inspections, welding and construction.
His diving services company held the contract to service the 16 Army Corps of Engineer dams and reservoirs in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for more than 35 years.
He also did underwater inspections of Pennsylvania Turnpike bridges.
Geyer said he liked the challenge of his work.
“There were some days I would do three dives a day,” he said.
As part of the Navy's Man In the Sea program, he dove to depths of 350 feet. The 1960s program was intended to demonstrate man's ability to live in and explore the depths of the ocean.
“The challenges of getting to that depth and performing work was very exciting,” Geyer said.
Geyer retired from daily diving work in 2004.
He currently is chief instructor for the Army Corps' divers in Key West, a position he has held since 1975. He provides consulting services to the military, Department of Justice and civilian industry clients, including providing expert-witness court testimony.
In his letter nominating Geyer to the Commercial Diving Hall of Fame, Hazelbaker noted several of his colleague's accomplishments, including his helping to create the association's industry safety standards, including certifications and equipment requirements. Geyer also helped gain a national consensus for those standards.
“He embodies everything that the Hall of Fame is about, and that's individuals who have made significant — and the emphasis is on significant — contributions to the practice of commercial diving,” Hazelbaker said.
Additionally, Geyer has helped develop curriculum and training during his 36 years as a head instructor for Army Corps dive-team coordinators.
He also invented a high-altitude diving table, which helps divers determine the speed at which they should resurface when diving in high-altitude environments.
A proper ascension helps divers avoid “the bends,” which is caused when a diver ascents too fast and nitrogen gas bubbles form in the body.
“Almost everything Dick Geyer has undertaken in his career has contributed to safer commercial diving practices,” said Hazelbaker.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or email@example.com.