Thursday, January 27, 2011

Underwater with Disneyland scuba divers


ANAHEIM – Prospective machinists and electricians often get an unusual question when applying for jobs at Disneyland: Do you scuba dive?

Scuba diving plays a major role for 54 employees at the Disneyland Resort, one of the more odd jobs at the two parks. Divers are responsible for maintaining and fixing rides and equipment in the waterways in the two theme parks, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

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Mark Kelly, front, and Thomas Self, conduct routine maintenance on a giant oyster at the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride at Disneyland Jan. 19. They are among many under water maintenance technicians on Disneyland's payroll who swim the Anaheim theme park's waterways every evening to ensure that everything works properly the next day.
After the parks close, divers suit up, get in the water and check tracks, animatronics and vehicles – usually in the dark. Divers also retrieve lost items. Up to half of their time is spent in the water.

In the lagoon for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, divers use flashlights or headlights to navigate waters, looking under submarines and testing animatronics. Teams of four are assigned to each job with at least two going underwater at the same time.

The toughest challenge: The cold.

On a morning last week, the water was about 50 degrees. Even with wetsuits, hands go numb.
"It's pretty brutal," said Thomas Self, 46, a machinist and diver at Disneyland.

The divers go through about four months of scuba training, in addition to other job preparation, to be ready for the underwater jobs, said Dan Cabral, integrated facility manager who oversees diver training.

Disney usually asks for volunteers among its current staff or seeks outside employees for the scuba jobs. Applicants are asked if they already dive or whether they'd be willing to train.

Self, a Disney employee for 10 years, volunteered to undergo scuba training when he was working on the Hong Kong Disneyland project about five years ago. Crews needed help installing the hippos in the Jungle Cruise ride, so Self decided to try it. He already had been a recreational diver since 2002.

Divers must go through intense training up to 140 feet deep in the open ocean, including rescue lessons. Employees must learn rescue techniques to save visitors who might fall in or fellow employees who might get in trouble. Self said he's never been involved in a rescue on the job.

But the Disney waterways are far different than the ocean: The deepest point is 22 feet in Disneyland's Rivers of America by the Fantasmic! equipment. In the Nemo lagoon, the waters reach 12 feet deep.

Most of the tools, such as bolts and wrenches, are traditional. But some pneumatic tools are designed for the water, Self said.

Divers are assigned to one particular attraction, such as World of Color in California Adventure or Disneyland's Jungle Cruise, but they learn how to work in other areas, in case they are needed, Cabral said.
For the Nemo ride, divers usually get in the water between 2 and 4 a.m. On a morning last week, divers demonstrated their work for a Disney camera crew and Register staffers starting before 7 a.m. as the sun was coming up.

Two divers took their equipment – including goggles and oxygen tanks – off of a yellow-topped golf cart that they call the "Nemo Mobile." Once in the water, they swam to an animatronic sea bass, checking its jaw movement and cleaning out its mouth – something they do routinely.

Later, the divers paddled to a blue and purple clams, also checking that they open and close. Self said divers often make adjustments to the clams when they reinstall them after repairs, making sure the movements have the right flow in the water.

Divers have their own sign language: pinching index fingers and thumbs to say turn it up, making a clam motion to adjust the mouth or clenching fists to indicate "stop."

Besides fixing equipment, divers also retrieve lost items, including cameras, glasses, cellular phones, hats and purses, Self said.

Self said the work would be difficult for employees who are claustrophobic because they sometimes must go in spaces where there's only one way out. For World of Color, some divers must go under the platform. But Self said the divers learn to rely on each other.

"It's a lot of fun," Self said.



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