History of the Pacific Grove Hyperbaric Chamber
Saving Lives Since 1966
We are a volunteer team of MDs, RNs, an RRT, DMTs, EMTs, and technicians – and are on call 24/7 for emergencies.
The Pacific Grove Hyperbaric Chamber came into existence as part of the Pacific Grove Ocean Rescue established for the purpose of promoting water safety and performing marine water rescues within the City of Pacific Grove and neighboring cities. The team additionally provided emergency medical treatment to victims suffering from SCUBA diving related injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning in the hyperbaric facility located at the Pacific Grove Fire Department.
In 1963 the Monterey Sunfish Dive Club formed a group of volunteers to patrol the coastline of Pacific Grove. The team included Tom Maudlin, the Pacific Grove Police Chief who was appointed to the position of Officer In Charge (OIC). A few years later it was agreed that Jim “Doc” Hughes would take the leadership role as OIC, a position that he enthusiastically held until 1991. In its earlier years, as an auxiliary of the Pacific Grove Police Department the team had many tasks.
Initially, members patrolled the local shoreline on weekends in four-hour shifts. It was their goal to warn out-of-town divers of hazardous diving conditions and to make sure everyone respected the environment. Their official name was the Pacific Grove Marine Refuge Patrol because the city had waterfront known as the Marine Refuge. One of the primary responsibilities of the team was to provide emergency ocean rescue to persons in distress.
In 1966 the city purchased its first hyperbaric chamber with funds provided by diving clubs, local service clubs and city funds. The portable, single lock, six-and-a-half-foot long steel tube with a single window was housed at the Pacific Grove Fire Department but was operated by members of the Patrol. The chamber was primarily used for treating victims of SCUBA diving related injuries and military pilots suffering from altitude bends (DCS). Originally all treatment tables were on air only. Decompression Sickness treatments lasted 12 hours. For Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE) the treatment was 36 hours. This presented the problem of no access to the patient once the treatment was started. The US Navy came to our aid.
Those victims suffering from air embolism or severe decompression sickness had to be transported to a better-equipped facility. Once the patient was placed inside the chamber the unit was pressurized. It was then loaded into the rescue van and driven to the airport. There it was placed in a USCG helicopter along with the chamber physician and one or two crew members and flown to North Island Coronado. It was then loaded in a truck and hauled across town to the US Navy SEALs facility where it was placed in their multiplace chamber. Once pressurized the patient could complete the treatment more comfortably and with medical assistance in their larger chamber. On the last trip to San Diego the Chamber had to be diverted to the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber where they showed the crew how to plumb the chamber for oxygen. Treatments could now be done in house.
Time of change
In 1970 the official name was changed to the Pacific Grove Marine Rescue Patrol. Patrolling the shores eventually became impractical so the weekend shifts were retired. The jurisdiction also changed from the Police Department to the Fire Department.
The Pacific Ocean Rescue (PGOR) consisted of the Rescue side and the Chamber side with 30 members who responded when notified of an emergency by pager. When the pagers said “Coastal Incident” and gave the incident location the team was activated. The rescue van, number 6561, had the initial response zone from the Pajaro River to Bixby Creek, roughly forty miles of coastline. Many of the team members were cross-trained to serve as rescue workers as well as chamber technicians.
During “Doc” Hughes’ period as OIC he led a fund-raising effort that raised more than $210,000. The money was used to purchase a new hyperbaric chamber, an air compressor, air storage tanks, and construct the treatment room.
In 1984 the mono-place chamber was retired when the new 54 inch double lock, multi-place hyperbaric chamber came online thanks to the efforts of Dr. Takashi “Tak” Hattori, the chamber’s medical director. It had treated and saved the lives of over 200 divers.
In 1991 leadership within the organization changed with the retirement of “Doc” Hughes. Formal Hyperbaric Training was implemented to the standards for the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Technicians. All crew members were required to have medical training as First Responders or higher and take a 20 hour multi-day course which was provided by a Certified NBDHMT Instructor. All EMTs and higher were certified as Diver Medic Technicians (DMT) with recertification every two years.
In 2006 the Pacific Grove Ocean Rescue was disbanded about the same time that the Pacific Grove Fire Department merged with Monterey Fire Department.
Only the hyperbaric chamber remains in active service, now called the Pacific Grove Hyperbaric Chamber. It is no longer under the Fire Department, but is operated by City of Pacific Grove Volunteers. The OIC is the Director. The officers include the Director, the Medical Director, the Chamber Coordinator, and the Training and Education officer. Other officers include Maintenance, Safety and Community Outreach.
Members may come from the general public. Medical training is highly recommended but not mandatory. A limit of 20 active members, not including the physicians who are also volunteers, has been established. Staffing needs are evaluated annually with interviews annually unless four positions become vacant sooner.
A chamber Supervisor will be notified of a possible chamber case by a hospital emergency department, a physician or DAN. The Supervisor will coordinate establishing the case for possible treatment pending acceptable criteria of the patient and adequate availability of crew and a physician. Crew members and physicians will be contacted for their availability via mobile phone or landline.
All members are required to attend monthly training sessions.They are covered by Pacific Grove Workers’ Compensation while training and participating in treatment cases. All crew members and physicians are Volunteers for the City of Pacific Grove and serve without pay.