To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing this to you out of concern for the lives, families, and careers of first responders. As a 20 year multi-discipline water rescue/public safety dive instructor certified through several internationally recognized water rescue agencies, a past U.S. Board member of the International Rescue Instructors Association, past 14 year Regional Director with the Public Safety Diving Association and Water Rescue Inc., a tally of thousands of students counted by those agencies, as well as national recognition in Washington D.C. for flood rescues made after Hurricane Katrina and recipient of multiple National Teaching awards and recognition, I hope I can impress upon you the importance of this information.
In 2020 there were 325 Line of Duty deaths (Fire and L.E.). Many during training. As a matter of fact, most injuries occur during training than any other scenario for first responders. PSDivermonthly.com has on their site almost 300 memorials of First Responders who have died in the water. Over 175 of those who died are top water rescuers. Greater than 30 just since 2014.
So why do we, as an industry, give a path for untrustworthy, often dangerous self declared instructors to injure or maim our most precious resources, your team members? In many cases, these “instructors” can't pass the very class they claim they can teach. In one instance I am intimately familiar with, a representative of one group enrolled in just one class as a new student to the subject matter. Then the group he is affiliated with decides he has the practice, experience and judgement to teach the same program to you. With little practical understanding of the material and only a few more repetitions of the skills than you.
Despite these facts, as an industry of rescue professionals, we still do not demand more stringent refresher training or Instructor education requirements.
For some reason we accept this. Why? Why do we push first responders to work hard toward achievement of their water rescue qualification, only to allow the student to carry the same credentials 20 years later with no expectation of structured and organized refresher training or proving they can still do the tasks and skills safely? I have students who can still flash their cards 20 years later to Chiefs and others despite doing little to update their training, or maintain the physical requirements needed to save themselves, other first responders, or the victims they are trying to rescue. For these reasons, I have always refused to issue cards without clearly marked expiration dates. And it still hasn’t kept some people from falsifying records.
When you are part of a multi-agency team, like a Task Force, the team members from other departments should feel confident that if something goes wrong, the guy next to him will not make things worse or add another casualty to the statistics.
Locally, there have been a few incidents brought to my attention, with a request of anonymity, by concerned first responders where they feel they have been placed in unnecessary danger during training by people who brand themselves instructors with nothing else to back it. In one case an individual was on workers comp for several months after what was relayed to me as lack of instruction, poor leadership, a lack of clear concise objectives as well as a failure of the instructor to demonstrate the skill first before requiring the student to perform it. In another case relayed to me, that almost claimed the life of a young fire fighter, was an incident where a student was pinned by hydrology against exposed sheet piling on a side of a river any experienced, credentialed instructor would have know better than to try and work.
I believe any truly, trained, and experienced instructor would have worked the other side of the water way (river right) and accomplished every task necessary to complete legitimate training, and still provide the experience we want to get to the students, safely. I teach on this same site. I have since 2006. I’m familiar with the area.
(Reference site picture).
There is a group that continues to mislead and take advantage local first responders under the guise that 1- they are a legitimate, licensed business in MS and 2- that they are legitimately recognized instructors in the water disciplines they purport to teach.
Southern Technical Aquatic Resource and Rescue (STARR) is like many companies that gain the illusion of credibility simply by creating a fancy website, copy and pasting the right words and creating fashionable “certifications”, despite, in my professional opinion, few, if any of their upper staff actually being capable of passing a legitimate water rescue course themselves. After all, its been more than 10 years and yet their “instructors” choose to remain unrecognized? They choose not to better themselves? They choose not to have their programs vetted by other professionals and thereby, choose not to provide the most up to date and proven techniques. There are a multitude of legitimate training agencies out there. Instructors should lead from in front.
Over the years I've been quite vocal about what I believe to be dishonest business practices by the leadership of this group. I believe they will say whatever they think you want to hear to gain pseudo credibility. Let me share with your why I say that.
Let's start out with what they submitted as an official description of their company to the New Orleans Mayor's Office website for film and video.
NCIS New Orleans-
In all seven seasons we provided water safety, Justin Lewter worked two days on one season. I couldn't bring him back because he wouldn't leave one of the actors alone, as is our policy on every show. Justin felt he was exempt from those rules because he had met the actor once before, years prior. I'll hand it to the actor, despite the visible eyerolls, he was much more polite to Justin than I think he wanted to be.
Check out our album on the Diveandrescue.org Facebook site. We worked that detail too. NOBODY from STARR was EVER on this set. THIS IS A BLATENT LIE WITH NO FACTUAL BASIS OF THEM ON SET WHAT-SO-EVER. Check out the pictures: (6) Facebook
On this day we were at Harrys Dive Shop pool. We were hired to build a rig for one of the scenes before crew call. (Pictures above). STARR's claim is that they provided water safety. No. Gulf States was there. We built the rig and then that crew was preparing to wrap out when the Director of Photography noticed he could see the low ceiling tiles in the underwater shots. He asked that the crew stay for the simple and isolated task of stirring the surface water with their fins. David Hertz was on our team then. We had to stop scheduling David and he went to STARR. But make no mistake. He was not water safety. STARR was not there, nor did their people play any roll in safety, they provided no safety kit nor consulted with anyone at anytime about any safety on this project. Check out the pictures: (6) Facebook
I know this because I was there from the start to provide water safety as well as to direct my crew. As a matter of fact, water safety on this movie was a under a Screen Actors Guild contract, which I am a member. I still to this day receive residuals for that job. (Pink slip above). They were not water safety. This is a lie.
I actually find this lie humorous, it's so outlandish. I was the full time Medic for the construction department on this. I was also tasked with water safety for local components. On one particular day I was asked to provide water safety for Eric Roberts. I asked Keith to cover construction as the medic so I could cover the water safety
Jeff Galpin was the Marine Coordinator on this and he hired me to provide water safety. I'm betting Jeff wouldn't recognize anyone from STARR if he was standing on them. More BS. Ill be happy to retract my statement if someone can prove otherwise.
I was the Water Safety Coordinator on this. I may have brought David Hertz in on this before we refused to schedule him anymore.
Should we now look at the verbiage they used to mislead and lie to individuals for monetary gain at the potential expense of crew safety to feed their own ego?
HOW ABOUT THAT YELLOW BOAT?
You know that yellow boat they parade around (literally, in parades and making money with it after testifying to the Carriere, LA Fire Board it was destroyed and unusable)? Yeah, it really belongs to Shiree Segerstrom. Jim Segerstom's* widow. When she found out STARR had it she called them. Don Meiger flat out refused to return it. He actually had the nerve to offer buy it from her, but when Shiree said no, Don refused to return it. Shiree asked me to follow up with law enforcement because I was physically with Jim in the truck bay when the agreement to return it was made but they told us she had to come in from California herself to file the complaint. The cost of travel, lodging, lawyer fees etc, made it financially unrealistic. BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE- DON KNOWS THAT'S NOT HIS BOAT. want to know how he got it in the first place? Read below. * Jim Segerstom was the swift water rescue instructor that agreed to allow them to use the boat for free. But when he had a stroke shortly after the class, they dishonestly kept the boat. The guy was kind enough to let them use it and that's how they repay him. Disgusting.
Now, lets take a look at the people that STARR depends on to push their dishonest agenda for money and recognition.
Let me say that I do not hold anything against the lower level responders who were only looking for a way to help. I respect their position and their eagerness to help. Keith Thomas is very good at laying down the BS and if you hadn't been exposed to Keith before he was dismissed from the New Orleans Health Dept, working with him or watching him betraying people that trusted him in the past, you would likely not know it.
FACT- One of their self-described “lead instructors” was recently arrested, charged, and plead guilty to breaking into the computer system of the United States Petroleum Reserve, from his home. (copy of Associated Press release available at diveandrescue.org/truth)
FACT- Another one of their self-described “lead instructors” was brandishing a weapon in a non-life threatening environment during flood operations in 2016 and accidently shot a fellow firefighter who was in the same boat with him in the stomach and nearly killed him.
FACT- Eye to eye, lied to both a Fire Chief on the Westbank Jefferson Parish as well as a LSU FETI instructor in Shreveport telling them both all of my credentials had been revoked- while pushing their programs. (I have never had a credential revoked, ever)
FACT- At least one of their instructors had their credentials revoked by the overseeing authority (copy of revocation letter available at diveandrescue.org/truth)
FACT- The organization itself took possession of a rescue boat owned by the swift water flood rescue instructor, Jim Segerstrom, who was kind enough to let them use it for free, but when he died suddenly, they refused to return it. Keeping it out of sight for over a year before taking it out again. (details available at diveandrescue.org/truth)
I urge you to rebuff this organization. Ask them for their instructor training records, not issued in house. Ask them for proof of their instructor’s experience and ask them the last time their “instructors” received any outside training from recognized professionals in the industry.
For information on me, including my resume to compare, as well as documents providing context and examples of their lack of integrity, dishonesty and selfish practices, please visit this site, www.Diveandrescue.org/truth
Paul V. Fraser III NRP, PDI, LEM-T '14-'19
Director of Operations/Founder
Gulf States Dive and Rescue
501(c)(3) Not For Profit
This is the actual sheet piling and training location mentioned above. Notice the result of the power on the sheet piling, figure right. Imagine being pinned there.
Below is a screen shot of an official submission by STARR to the City of New Orleans Mayors Office movie crew database managed by the Mayors Office, www.filmneworleans.org. I realize the fact that they spelled the name of their own company wrong may lay doubt as to the authenticity of this screen shot, but I assure you, all I have done to this screen shot is use a colored marking app to add to the screen shot. I did not delete or cover over anything that wasn't readable. All misspellings are theirs.
Lets start with the fact that I actually did work on every one of the shows they listed. All of them.
These didn't required vast amount of work to disprove.
Fire Chief Carrier Vollenteer Fire Dept
Don Meiger is listed on STARR business filings as the Unit Commander. My experience with Mr Meager is limited, but telling.
I was contacted by Shiree Segerstom, the widow of Jim Segerstrom who had taught two water rescue classes to the Carriere, MS Volunteer Fire Department. She indicated that the fire department, or the organization, STARR, associated with that department, had kept the boat belonging to Jim after he was kind enough to let them borrow it for classes free of charge. However, after Chief Waggoner passed and Jim died suddenly, Don Meiger decided to keep the boat to make money off of it. Then he actually refused to return it when Ms Segerstrom asked for it back. She was requesting my assistance since she was in CA and I lived close by and was present during training and original negotiations for the equipment.
At the time of training, I was completing my instructor internship and had been shadowing Jim in a learning capacity, I was present at both classes, as well as in the meetings in the fire truck bay when Jim Segerstom and Chief Waggoner came to the agreement of allowing Carrier to borrow life vests and a yellow Rescue Deployment Craft (rescue boat) for training as long as they paid for all shipping and agreed to mail the boat back after class. I was witness to these discussions between Chief Waggoner and Jim Segerstrom. This isn't hearsay. I was there. The first class, coordinated by Chief Waggoner, went off without a hitch. Class occurred and gear was returned. The second class, is another story. Unfortunately, Chief Waggoner passed from cancer and D Meiger was left in charge. This time the boat was never returned.
When I was notified, Sheree told me she saw the boat on social media and contacted Don via phone to return the boat, Don Meiger refused. Instead, according to Ms. Segerstrom, Don tried to get her to sell the boat to him. She said no, she wanted the boat back. Don flat out refused.
Ms. Segerstrom asked me to follow up with the local authorities. I met with the Pearl River Co Sheriffs Dept as requested, but was told that 1- Chief Meiger told the PRCSO that he bought the boat, although no proof of purchase was provided. Additionally, he could not name the Special Rescue Services Group representative Don says he "bought" the boat from or provide a receipt or other proof of transfer. 2 - that Ms. Segerstrom would need to file the complaint in person.
According to Shiree Segerstrom, Don Meiger still cannot provide any proof that he bought that boat from anyone at Special Rescue Services Group or Jim's widow, the successor to his will, She never gave him permission to keep the boat. Remember, Don offered to buy the boat from Mr. Segertstrom. Why would he do that if he had truly obtained the boat legally. I think we all know why Don had no proof of legal ownership.
Can you laundry a boat?
Here are the details and chronology as relayed by the PRCSO and accumulated from STARRS own website.
- The boat was not returned after class and at some point the boat was taken over and kept from sight for over a year by the Carriere Vol Fire Dept. (Since Jim was letting Carriere use the equipment for free and they had agreed to mail the equipment back and I doubt Jim expected to die suddenly, Jim had not created paperwork that would have generated an invoice through SRSG. Jim owned the company and took the privilege to help out CVFD. Unfortunately, that left an accountability gap for some time that STARR took advantage of)
- The boat was then represented to the CVFD Board of Directors as unusable and unrepairable by Chief Meiger and the Carriere Vol Fire Dept Board of Directors agreed to allow Don Meiger's personal interest, STARR, take it as junk. (NOTE: The boat was used during class and in good working order after all of this).
- However, the boat was not unusable or unrepairable as it was seen in-use during a paid class by a fire dept in Louisiana as well as seen and photographed during local street parades on a trailer. The boat was used to make money and as an advertising gimmick for Dons personal endeavor. Don took a pc of equipment from the CVFD, under questionable circumstances, gave his word to the Board of Directors the boat was unusable, then used the boat in classes that he charged money for.
Paramedic, American Medical Response
(AMR Gulf Coast)
My experience with Keith is much more in-depth. For a very short time Keith held a position of leadership with GSDR. While I won’t get into the specific reason Keith was fired from GSDR, it surrounded a situation where he was left in charge of equipment on a movie shoot in New Orleans. Some of that equipment came up missing with no explanation as to where it went. The equipment has never been recovered. He was not fired over the incident, he was fired for circumstances related to actions associated with it.
While with Dive and Rescue Keith would come out occasionally to help with safety. He was never an instructor. As a matter of FACT he was the reason I almost drowned on the weir. One event that sticks in my mind that I should have seen as a red flag about Keith was an argument he had with a then girlfriend, we'll call "K". while we were in class he and K got into a heated argument. One that drew my attention from class because of the volatile nature of Keith's behavior and rude unprofessional tone. I'm not saying he did anything illegal, but I will say, to this day it sticks in my mind. Personally, I would never have spoken to any female in that manner.
When Keith left our organization, a STARR business card was found in a desk identifying that he was creating his own organization behind our back. Apparently for some time. While I have many suspicions about Kieth, there is little that I can offer in the way of information I can back with proof as I can with the others below. However, it’s clear Keith is the ring leader of the group and by far lacks the most integrity. He’s just better at camouflaging into the background. My experience with Don is he’s a follower, kind of wishy washy as a leader and I think most can see him being easily manipulated by Keith.
Firefighter New Orleans Airport
Gary was an associate instructor with our organization for a short time. He never taught a class by himself because he couldn't get all the skills in and he left out key details during his presentations on the water. He is listed as the Lead Water Rescue Instructor South for STARR.
This actually goes back to a police report filed with the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Office regarding an ex-employee of ours, BJ Smith, after she was charged with stealing almost $20,000 from our organization. She too went to STARR. They new her record, but she had copied and stolen our files, contacts, vendor lists and other proprietary company information, so STARR was happy to accept her despite her ethical short comings. She immediately started courting Gary and other team members to leave GSDR. She was unable to influence other team members but was able to influence Gary and despite us showing him receipts for alcohol, cigarettes, personal steak dinners for her and her boyfriend, refueling of multiple cars at gas stations, plants that ended up at her house, groceries etc, he was taken in by her.
They say if you hang with four geniuses, you'll be the fifth. If you hang with four turkeys... In this case we'll use the term "liars".
Gary went out of his way to lie through his teeth to disparage our organization. For what? Just to try and discredit us. He compromised his own integrity just to try and spite us.
In 2017 our organization responded with five rescue boat teams to Orange County, Texas just before the landfall of Hurricane Harvey. We knew it would be bad so we planned ahead, secured our gear and set forth to TX. Our organization was the first, and for 8-10 hours, the only rescue resource to even get to the Orange County, TX Emergency Operations Center (EOC). While other teams from New Orleans and even the National Guard, ended up turning around, we made it in. During rescues, we covered miles and miles of territory before any official resources could make it in. We cut though brush, carried our boats over downed trees, worked through the rain and did not stop until everyone in the areas we were responsible for were rescued.
We helped a lot of young and elderly alike from flooded homes, clutching onto trees in currents, from their roof and from flooded churches. We also helped several animals. When the complete EOC was eventually activated and our crews were resting, I worked next to Texas Task Force 1, Jeff Novak (EOC water rescue coordinator) in the EOC helping to take calls and organize rescues. At one point, even using our entire team to track down social media requests for help, confirming the need for rescues on our personal cell phones and eliminating many, many ghost calls ensuring that resources in the field would not be wasted. No other teams stationed at the EOC did this.
Gulf States Dive and Rescue did this entirely on our own dime.
We paid for our travel, fuel and other expenses and we did it because we believed in doing the right thing for the right reasons. It wasn’t about money. We had skills, resources and team members who wanted to help. I am extremely proud of our team of the hard work and the sacrifices that were made. THIS WAS A COMPLETELY VOLUNTEER EFFORT on GSDR part.
Upon our return to New Orleans, being as proud of our team as I was, I of course bragged on our guys on social media because they deserved the recognition.
A few days later, I was made aware of a social media post authored by Gary Simon. In that post he tried to attack our credibility and diminish the hard work and sacrifice our crews put in by writing that we lied about our volunteer effort and that he “knew for a fact” that we had actually submitted a retroactive bill for our services and completed the official government paperwork to do so.
I’m not even going to sugar coat this one. This was an utterly, completely fabricated lie. There was no reasoning behind it. Just hatred and a propensity to be dishonest.
I have challenged Gary Simon to come up with one shred of evidence to prove his written lies. He still has not responded.
At no time was an invoice for payment or government paperwork competed or turned in before, during or after our response. If Gary Simon was not lying, then the paperwork is public information and available for inspection as such.
I’ll pay $1000 to anyone who can present any legitimate record of any such government paperwork or any invoice submitted from Gulf States Dive and Rescue to anyone in state or federal govt requesting payment for our service during our time in Texas. The only official paperwork we signed was the paperwork from Orange County EOC that we were a volunteer organization and no bill will be presented during or after the fact. Thats the ONLY paperwork we completed.
Gary lied and tried to take away from our crews the outstanding work they did for so many. That was an attack on our team members and completely unfair. It was never about the money.
In 2019, Gary’s lack of honesty and integrity finally came back to haunt him. Gary was convicted, and plead guilty to illegally accessing computers including altering or deleting files, including log files showing which resources were accessed.
Gary illegally broke into the United States Petroleum Reserve computer system from his home and caused roughly $23,000.00 in damages. Gary is what STARR calls a lead instructor.
Firefighter Benton, LA Fire Dept.
Justin Lewter is one of those people who talks religious then will lie to your face. The extent of dishonesty has no bounds. He also completed an instructor workshop in 2011. However, after violating our standards for minimum numbers and basic safety procedures in his first two classes, he was no longer welcome. Justin has a reputation in North Louisiana that I wouldn't want tied to Dive and Rescue anyway.
Justin never certified more than 11 students the entire time he was with us. He didn’t respond to verbal counseling on that and other issues and wasn’t honest regarding the set up and implementation of the courses. We then parted ways and he went to STARR. Despite only certifying 11 students, in two classes that never met minimum numbers, he’s been described by STARR as Lead Water Rescue Instructor North. Despite the fact that The Public Safety Diving Association and Water Rescue Inc revoked his certifications in 2016. (Copy of letter provided)
During one particular class I received a phone call from a past student and Instructor who teaches out of Louisiana State University at the Fire and Emergency Training Institute (FETI). The FETI instructor told me he was talking to Justin when Justin told him that I had all of my instructor certifications revoked by my parent agencies and that I was conning people and engaging in dishonest practices by claiming otherwise. (Sound familiar?)
Interestingly enough, this happened the very same week that David Hertz lied to his Chief, telling him the same thing...almost verbatim. I doubt it’s any coincidence that both just “happen” to make these accusations, at our two busiest locations in the state in almost the exact same words, on the same week while I was on the water out of state. Thankfully, I was familiar with the Chief and the LSU Instructor. Both initiated calls to me and left messages for me to call them back instead of taking either at their word, or worse yet, passing that information to other agencies or individuals. Both indicating their concern for whether or not David and Justin were telling the truth. Would they have done that if they found them trustworthy?
Was this an organized attempt by STARR to wrongfully discredit me for their own gain while I was in the middle of a class and mostly out of touch? I’ll let you decide. However, in both cases, Justin and David were marketing their made up rescue boat program at the time as they were unfairly trashing me to those individuals.
Revocation of Justin Lewter credentials by the Public Safety Diving Association and Water Rescue Inc Aug 2016
Promoted to Lead Instructor at STARR 2016
STARR Advisory Board
David had been a member of our team for a short time. He was helpful, he volunteered his time occasionally and was interested in doing things with us. Unfortunately David had a habit with sharing fantastical stories. Most, very difficult to believe. He also seemed to feel as though he had some entitlement to certain details, live events, etc. He didn’t understand that we schedule crews purely based on their qualifications. Eventually we just couldn't schedule him anymore and he left and ended up at STARR.
While teaching a week long class for several fire departments in the area, including David’s, I received a phone call one afternoon from his Fire Chief. His Chief explained that David had told him, face to face, eye to eye while at the fire house, that I had all of my instructor certifications revoked by my parent agencies and that I was conning Chiefs and engaging in dishonest practices by claiming otherwise and taking parish funds based on fraudulent information. I provided his Chief with phone numbers to our parent agencies that I represented and encouraged him to call. In a follow up call with the Chief, he was completely satisfied with the information provided and understood that David had in fact not told the truth.
For the record, I have NEVER had any of my certifications revoked at any time for any reason.
I only have one experience with Paul Braud. I understand Paul is the brother of Mark Smith.
In August of 2019 we advertised an IRIA Rescue Swimmer class and Paul called our office to enroll. Through emails and during his registration over the phone and paying his deposit, he was asked which service he was affiliated with. He identified himself as a past law enforcement officer and nothing else. Our office registered him in the class and we met at 0830 on the day. Jacob Erfle and Sid Anderson, local firefighters, were also in this class and were witness to the following exchange. Once I arrived at class, I immediately recognized him as being affiliated with STARR. Which, when asked about his public safety background, he did not mention.
Briefly, STARR likes to try and put people in my base level classes and then make them instructors. Their M.O. is to take a class, then label themselves as instructors to unsuspecting clients. At this point STARR had already done the same exact thing with our Rescue Boat classes with Justin Lewter. I was not about to let them do it again. So, I politely explained that he was not going to be allowed to take the class, sorry for the inconvenience and for his trouble and inconvenience I would refund 110% of his deposit for making the drive.
August 16 2019, 3 days later I received an email from Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) Dennis Pulley, located in the USA. Paul had called and complained that I refused to give him his refund. Please keep in mind, this was an International Rescue Instructors Association (IRIA) class, not ERDI. There was no legitimate reason for him to call ERDI and lie to them, unless his intention was to somehow besmirch my reputation with ERDI.
Despite telling ERDI that this was an IRIA class, not ERDI, my reputation was at risk with ERDI so I provided them with the electronic transfer receipt and a copy of a check that demonstrated that not only had I refunded his card that morning before class ever started, but our office also mailed a check that afternoon for the 10% above what I owed him for the inconvenience. At that point ERDI closed the case.
STARR lies about me and trashes me... but behind the scenes, they sure don't mind trying to get into my classes.