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September 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Man Who Made Your Diving Safer

from the September, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Not many divers these days are aware of what Dick Rutkowski did for sport diving, but he's given you a safety factor that just didn't exist three decades ago.

Back then, Florida Keys dive operators were talking about sinking wrecks in 130 feet of water, and Dick thought that to breathe air at that depth was a mistake. Having just retired from a career in government diving, which included research with Morgan Wells into using oxygen-enriched air by research divers, he proposed that these Florida divers breathed what we now know as nitrox. He said that, in fact, all sport divers could add safety to their diving by reducing the proportion of nitrogen they inhaled and absorbed.

The diving community castigated him, often brutally, for his efforts. Bill Gleeson, the editor of the then-all-powerful Skin Diver Magazine, called it "devil gas" and swore in print that he would never use it.

Undeterred, Rutkowski launched the first recreational nitrox certification course in his former Hyperbarics International base at Ocean Divers in Key Largo. It was the first of its kind. However, the antagonism toward him and his idea continued, and in 1991, the DEMA show, the world's most important dive-business exhibition, rejected an application by Rutkowski's International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD) to enter a booth, citing "safety issues" regarding the use of nitrox. Ill-informed? Yes, but they were also protecting the industry from newcomers.

However, Rutkowski's resilience in the face of resistance paid off, and today nearly all of us sport divers prefer to breathe nitrox for sport diving depths if we have the choice.

In 2012, the same DEMA that had spurned him two decades earlier inducted him into its Diving Hall of Fame. It wasn't Rutkowski's first honor. He already had a glacier named after him in Antarctica.

Today, enthusiastic divers still beat a path to his door in Key Largo, to spend time with the icon of modern-day diving and enlist in his diving medicine certification and clinical hyperbaric medicine classes. He's kept all the press cuttings from back in the day and proudly shows them, saying, "Science always beats bullshit!"

And it does, and he has been vindicated. After 31 years, a change of ownership of Ocean Divers meant that Dick Rutkowski has moved his business to US1 median mile marker 98.8, Key Largo, (FL). www.hyperbaricsinternational.com

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