A plane from Bridger Aerospace, an aerial wildfire management, response and suppression company based in Bozeman, landed at Minuteman Aviation in Missoula on Wednesday to make a special delivery for the Frenchtown Rural Fire District.
Bridger Aerospace manufactured and donated clear plastic face shields for the firefighters and emergency medical technicians to use when they respond to calls that may expose them to people infected with COVID-19.
"I can't stress enough how important it is to have this available to help our firefighters and volunteers that are helping out there," said Mel Holtz, a firefighter and spokesperson for Frenchtown Rural Fire District. "But there's just certain PPE (personal protective equipment) that we can't get our hands on."
Holtz said two of the department's volunteer EMTs are in quarantine after responding to a vehicle accident last week involving a person traveling through Montana who tested positive for COVID-19.
The department's volunteers and staff will be now in full PPE when responding to calls, using the new face shields from Bridger Aerospace. The reusable plastic face masks are made with 3D printers by the Bozeman company Spark R&D; and reusable gowns are made of a rain jacket-like material by an Alberton sewing business called BJM Industries.
"We can't get the PPE we normally use so we have to be thinking of how to be creative and these Montana companies are stepping up," Holtz said.
Last week, Bridger Aerospace began prototyping and manufacturing masks to help fill part of the shortage.
"We're an aero-firefighting company so we're alongside the firefighters in this battle, albeit in a different way," said Tim Sheehy, the company's CEO. "We feel it's our duty to do whatever we can for the local community right now to help out."
The company is continuing to prepare for the wildfire season as it also works to support local health organizations and emergency services to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Sheehy said Bridger hopes to produce about 5,000 masks in the next couple of weeks. He said any department, health care professional, clinic, fire department or hospital can visit their website and reach out for help.
"We're donating these free of charge," Sheehy said. " … We'll get as many to you as we can as fast as we can. We'll fly to you in a plane, we'll drive to you in a car, we'll FedEx it but you'll get it as fast as we can get it to you."
Tristen Jarmon, a firefighter, said he felt reassured to know he'll have protective gear to wear on duty.
"Whenever we were learning that PPE was running out, it was kind of concerning so we had to get creative and reused what we could," Jarmon said. "This provides us with a better way to protect ourselves."
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.