The emergency response and rescue community is one of a kind. They’re specialized. They’re tight knit. Their teams are intimate. And they’re multi-talented.
Facing off with everything from active fires to the aftermath of a tornado, and havoc wreaked by hurricanes to high flood waters that can’t be stopped, they put their will and their bodies to the test, and into high risk situations.
In the case of those focused on rescues in and on the water, a dry suit brought them together. But it’s not a piece of gear that unites them - it’s their dedication and heart, and their service to their communities...and each other.
A gap in public safety gear
Shortly after 9-11, Dave Abt was dealing Mustang Survival products out of a company in the eastern United States. In response to the events, a handful of companies were stepping up to participate in front line defense; Mustang Survival included.
They wanted to get involved in public safety - and to do it well.
At the time, Dave was getting to know local fire and law enforcement groups that offered response and support services to major community events. Particularly, ones involving risky rescues in fast moving water.
Doing his best to offer a functional solution, he’d been kitting them out in dry suits made for paddlers; kayakers, specifically. The suits fell apart before a team’s mission was complete - and while he’d seen SEAL teams and the Marine Corps groups training in suits custom-created for their marine-rescue needs, the public safety crews were left to patch together some pretty questionable setups to get their job done.
What Dave didn’t know was what was about to happen - and that one dinner and a challenge to an engineering team would catalyze an incredible community.
Bold requests yield bold results
When the opportunity presented itself (around a dinner table of public safety teams and Mustang Survival engineers, fueled by a healthy dose of wine), and the Mustang Survival engineers asked what they could do to support the public safety teams, Dave was fast to answer:
Build a quality surface rescue swimmer dry suit; one that would:
- offer the mobility and fit the rescuers needed
- help them move - not hinder them
- stand up to the conditions these people were throwing themselves into
The engineers said sure...and to expect it in five years.
Dave’s counter? Five months.
3.5 months later - the first rescue swimmer dry suit landed on Dave’s doorstep.
With the tools in hand to support emergency teams like never before, Dave set off to bring this new, and very tailored, drysuit to the water rescue community. Hitting the road (and heading in house to work with Mustang Survival) - Dave’s dedication to gearing up public safety teams took him to all corners of the continent.
And beyond showing up to show off the suit, he showed up to support:
To be onsite at major events.
- To help patch drysuits.
- To give rescuers somewhere dry to sleep - even for 20 minutes.
- To launch boats, fix engines.
- To show up.
And to listen to the experiences of the pros diving into the turbulent conditions with the intent and purpose to save lives - often at the risk of losing their own.
There as a team member. Not someone selling gear. And, as someone who could see the incredible power these individual teams had to support, educate, and enhance each other's’ practices when they came together.
It wasn’t long before Dave and his colleagues established IAWRP; the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals; a non-profit that brings together 300+ people a year across two major events. Members are trainers, manufacturers and operators. The intent: information share, develop and grow skills, and come together to BE together.
Globally recognized teams in the same room. Leaders of iconic and internationally known groups having a beer together at the end of a skills day. People who would otherwise never cross paths, treating one another as family.
And backing one another up when things get rough - both in the water and on land.
That, if anything, may be one of the most unexpected and important ripple effects of the dry suit-that-became-something-bigger phenomenon that is the IAWRP: connection, and saving lives beyond AND on land.
They’re brave, bold, and courageous. They dive into any situation that calls for support.
That, in a nutshell, is the mark of a public safety and emergency response team.
A particular set of them—those in swift water rescue—have a bond that’s unlike others. It spans state lines and borders between countries.
Yes, they wear the same gear. And the evolution of the drysuit runs hand in hand with how the connective tissue between these teams has forged an unbreakable bond.
But beyond—and so much more than—the suit, it’s the stories they share that connect them; of challenge and loss, of virtues and survival.
The drysuit’s simply the vehicle for the most important work to get done: the work of living through all the tough stuff, and coming home to tell their stories.