Photo Credit: Eric Pang
When U.S. Army Ranger and Infantry Officer Jon Norton oversaw the safety of his platoon during a high risk mountain operation back in 2011, he couldn’t have predicted that it would set the course for what has turned out to be his newest and most exciting adventure to date.
“It was like any other rappel,” Norton says today, “until the student lost his footing. He ended up swinging like a pendulum, and his rope and edge-protector were seriously compromised.”
The man, thankfully, was unharmed, yet the close call was enough to inspire Norton to research and test the edge-protectors that were on the market. For us laypeople, an edge-protection system is exactly what it sounds like: It is a material source fitted over a load-bearing rope to keep it from abrading against rough surfaces such as rock.
It didn’t take long for Norton to discover the flaws in these protectors: They don’t stay in position on sharp surfaces; they are difficult to hook up; and they haven’t been tested to realize their potential for specific uses.
“In other words,” Norton says, “it was a sort of one-size-fits-all situation.”
This was enough for him to conjure an idea he’s convinced will revolutionize how rope-access safety is approached in not only the military, but for first responders such as police and firemen. It’s called RopeSafe™, and it’s likely to soon be the edge-protection system to trump all others.
“The men and women who take the kinds of risks that require such safety measures deserve the absolute best gear,” Norton says. “And RopeSafe™ is just that. We conducted lab tests with UConn School of Engineering to do thermal testing and breaking strength. The results are that the product is in compliance with NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) standards.”
But don’t just take Norton’s word for it – or even that of his alma mater. To truly validate RopeSafe™, he sent it for field testing to the most elite mountaineering units in the Department of Defense, as well as the NYC Fire Department and Police Department of Emergency Services Unit.
“I’m happy to say that the feedback was that RopeSafe™ is an exponentially better edge-protection solution,” says Norton. “They praised its light weight, its easy installation, and how it stays in position. This is literally everything such a product should offer.”
Norton appears as humbled by the prospects of his invention as he is excited.
“Units are beginning to sell and all feedback is positive,” he tells me while curious onlookers sip their morning coffee through quizzical expressions.
We speak about not only RopeSafe™ and Norton’s impressive military career, but his wife, three children, and his roots in Killingworth. It’s easy to see his devotion to all things in his life. He spends what little solitary time he has these days meditating and thinking about gratitude. A far cry from anything resembling a stuffy businessman, Norton is clearly trying to pay it forward.
“I’m really grateful for having served my country,” he says. “And I’m grateful for being able to start a family after doing so. And now, having this opportunity to develop and work on something I know can save lives, well, what can I say? It’s a great feeling.”
As far as what’s down the road for Norton and RopeSafe™, there are more than a few product endorsements and demonstrations on the calendar, not to mention an opportunity Norton calls “hugely important.” He’s referring to the Street Shares Foundation, a website designed to help entrepreneurial veterans grow their small business.