School in the Arizona desert teaches students skills needed for underwater welding

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- In the dry Arizona desert, students are training for lucrative careers underwater.

Commercial Divers International is a Goodyear-based company, that teaches the craft of underwater welding, a thrilling and obscure career that takes workers to great depths.

Underwater welding is a highly specialized profession that combines two skills: welding and diving. They're construction workers, but in order to get to their job site, they have to take the plunge. It's a lucrative job that can include traveling around the country and the world, and for some the journey starts at Commercial Divers International.

"The program is a total of 653 hours," said Don Moore, Co-Owner of Commercial Divers International. "We spend about 300 hours underwater."

The program is owned and taught by experienced commercial divers with U.S. Navy training. Moore has been diving for nearly four decades, and also worked as Navy SEAL instructor.

"Diving for us is just a way to get to work, really. That's what we get paid for, danger in diving. What we do when we get there is all part of the program. Everybody gets paid the same way. Everybody gets to weld," said Moore.

To practice diving in the desert, there are large tanks filled with thousands of gallons of water that simulate real-life projects. Underwater welders work on offshore oil rigs, building underwater infrastructure. They even work inland, building dams, piers, and large aquariums.

Janae Lugo is ready to dive into the real world, having just graduated over the weekend. Her goal is to do international commercial diving, specifically jobs that would keep her below the surface for long periods of time.

"Me, I eventually want to be a saturation diver," said Lugo.

"Commercial diving can be a job where you spend 250 days a year on the road. Think about working on an oil rig, where you're 28 days on 28 days off," said Moore.

First, students learn the tools of the trade and how to weld.

"We have hydraulic power tools, jackhammers, to even underwater chainsaws," said Moore. "We have different types of projects. Valve assembly pipe, clamp."

Students are taught how to operate air systems and recompression chambers. The job requires working under a lot of pressure, both mentally and physically. The helmet itself can weight up to 40 lbs, and many will have to wear a weight belt to keep from floating up.

On top of that, there's the actual "work".

"A lot of times, you're doing four-hour shifts in the water," said Moore. "If you're operating a jackhammer for 4four hours, it's a lot of work."

It's also an atmosphere that most people never experience.

"When you're in there, you actually feel free more than anything," said Lugo.

Many students who graduate from the courses go on to do offshore work in the Gulf Coast. Depending on the type of work and the location, the instructors say underwater welders just out of school can make $50,000 to $120,000 a year.

"I have a guy who went to work for a company in California, went on ROV Program. his first month's paycheck was $9,000, and the second month is $11,000," said Moore.

For Lugo, the program opens up an ocean of opportunities.

"Salvage would be awesome," said Lugo. "Those deep ships, you never know what you can find out there."

Since they opened up their Goodyear location three years ago, the owners have had a steady pool of students. They say many successful commercial diving careers started in the middle of the desert. Commercial Divers International is hosting an Open House at their Goodyear facility on July 15, from 10:00 a.m. to noon, at 4055 S. Sarival Avenue.

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