Dick Rutkowski helped change the course
of modern diving through his continued efforts to test and promote the
use of mixed gases, such as Nitrox & Trimix. His work eventually
helped develop tech diving and clinical hyperbaric medicine as we know
Upon graduation from high school in
1950, Dick joined the Navy during the Korean War. He was schooled in
Radio Teletype and Morse Code. Upon graduation he was assigned
to North Africa, relaying communications to the 6th Fleet. It was in
1953 that Dick made his first recreational scuba dive. After being discharged
in 1954 he worked for a couple of years at IBM and in the chemistry
lab at St. Regis Paper.
He rejoined the Navy in 1956 and was
assigned to Antarctica as a radio operator. Dick eventually served on
the aircraft carrier USS Franklin Roosevelt in 1959, after which he
enrolled in Meteorological Training in Peoria, Illinois through the
US Weather Bureau. He was sent to the South Pole weather station after
graduating and in 1963 he received a transfer to the Canadian Arctic.
Rutkowski eventually departed Polar Operations to join the Atlantic
Oceanographic Meteorological Lab in Miami in 1964, which later, in
1970, became NOAA (the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).
Dick attended Commercial Dive School in 1965 and was certified through
PADI, NAUI, and YMCA. It was in 1965 that Dick started Scientific Diver
Training for NOAA. During this period he worked for NOAA as a diver
as well as Scientific Technician, installing equipment in the ocean.
It was in 1967 that the Board of Geographic Names named a glacier
in Rutkowski's honor. In 1978, he co-authored the world's first
dive management manual, which is still used today.
Dick Rutkowski with
Dr. Morgan Wells
In 1970 Dick joined forces with Dr.
Morgan Wells, who was the Director of NOAA Diving, to work on procedures
for scientific research diving using Oxygen Enriched Air (NITR0X).
Dr. Wells saw the need for longer periods of diving time, with less
decompression time, using open circuit scuba for conducting underwater
research on the continental shelf. He went on to develop an EAD (Equivalent
Air Depth) formula and used this formula, along with the current
tables, to develop the Nitrox Dive Tables. Dick worked with Dr. Wells
on these tables and formula development. That same year Rutkowski
co-founded, with Ed Brown, Dive Incorporated, a company developed to
service oil rigs.
In 1973 he became a NOAA Aquanaut
by working in the undersea lab located in Freeport, in the Bahamas.
It was during this time he was directed to obtain a recompression
chamber for NOAA to serve the recreation and military diving community
in areas of Miami, as well as Central and South America.
Rutkowski helped start The Florida
Underwater Council and, with them, developed a recompression chamber.
In 1975 he started a training program at his own facility. The program
was called Medical and Physiological Aspects of Recompression Therapy.
It was during this period that NOAA implemented the Physicians Diving
Medical Program(for which Dick served as Co-Director for 33 years) which
was used to train physicians exclusively.
Rutkowski continued to set up chambers
and train technicians throughout the U.S. and Caribbean between the
years of 1975-1985, including the Cayman Islands as well as the
Great Lakes area of the US. He served as Director of NOAA's Hyperbaric
Facility, Deputy Diving Coordinator, as well as NOAA's Dive Safety
Officer. After 33 years of government service, he retired and formed
his own company.
Upon retiring in 1985 he built Hyperbarics
International, INC. through which Dick continued to build hyperbaric
facilities and teach Diving and Clinical Hyperbaric Medical Medicine
throughout the world to physicians, dive supervisors, and medical personnel.
During this time, Dick set up over 18 facilities in hospitals and
field locations. He was the first to introduce Oxygen Enriched Air
(NITROX) to the recreational diving community. His was the first
facility in the world to offer NITROX certifications to recreational
divers. In 1988 he formed IAND (International Association of Nitrox
Divers) which in 1991 became known as IANTD International Association
of Nitrox and Technical Divers. It is no surprise that he is still
known today as the "Father of Recreational Technical Diving." Rutkowski
also co-founded eight other companies for scientific research, equipment,
Rutkowski's books and writings
on Nitrox and mixed gases are the guidelines for Tech Divers throughout
the world. He went on to write the Recompression Chamber Life Support
Manual and worked with many government agencies to establish their
diver training programs and safety boards for the EPA, NASA, NOAA, and
other government agencies in the U.S. and around the world.
In the 1980's and 90's Rutkowski met
with much resistance at first by the diving certifying agencies. His
theory was widely criticized at that time but is now accepted and taught
by all diving agencies around the world due to Dick's persistence.
This changed the world of the recreation diver today. It was after achieving
his goal of making Nitrox certification available worldwide that Dick
was quoted as saying "science always wins over bullshit."
In June of 2011 Rutkowski received
the Craig Hoffman / Charles W. Schilling Award for "for an outstanding
contribution to teaching, education, and diving safety, with
the particular goals of the Hyperbaric Medical Society in educating
the diving community and the public about science and the practice of
diving medicine." This is just one of the many awards Rutkowski has
received over the years.
Dick has successfully treated hundreds
of divers with his chamber and with the medical personnel at Hyperbarics
International he has trained 7000 medical personnel to treat diving
and clinical hyperbaric medical problems. There is no doubt that Nitrox
has made it much safer on the older diver and diving in general, as
it offers much better physiology. His contributions have changed the
face of recreational diving and opened the door to technical diving
as we know it today. His contributions to hyperbaric medicine,
as well as his work with mixed breathing gases, have no doubt made diving
a much safer sport today. All of these achievements make Dick
Rutkowski a true Legend of Diving.
ILD would like to thank Dick Rutkowski for the pictures and information included in this article.
Instructor/Student Guide for the Use of Nitrogen-Oxygen Mixtures as a Diver's Breathing Gas
The Complete Guide to Nitrox Diving
Introduction to Nitrox Diving
Instructor/Student Guide for the Use of Breathing Gases during Hyperbaric Exposures
Diving Accident Management Manual
Mixing/Blending for Nitrox and Trimix
Contributor/Editor of NOAA Diving Manual
You can contact him at:
President of Hyperbaric International, Inc.
522 Caribbean Drive Key Largo, FL. 33037 (305)-451-2551
Please check out more information on Rutkowski by reading his books.