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Spotlight: Hot Shield USA sets new standard in firefighter protective gear

Be ready for your next fire with a hot shield mask


Company Name: Hot Shield USA
Headquarters: Camarillo, CA
Signature Product: Hot Shield HS-2 Wildland Firefighter Face Mask
Website:  http://www.hotshield.com

Intro: Hot Shield USA manufactures extremely heat resistant wild land firefighting PPE, specifically face masks, helmet shrouds, bandannas and respiratory housings designed to protect the face, ears, neck and lungs from direct flame, radiant heat and ash particulate.

Where did your company name originate from?
As firefighters ourselves, we wanted to communicate to firefighters our mask would “shield” a firefighter from the heat and flames of a hot and nasty wildfire. After much wrestling with our options, we decided on Hot Shield.

(HS-2 Wildland Firefighter Face Mask)
(HS-2 Wildland Firefighter Face Mask)

What was the inspiration behind starting your company?
In October 1993, hundreds of wildfires had broken out all over Southern California, collectively named Firestorms 1993 by the media. We had just finished working extended strike team deployments into Altadena and Malibu, during which we fought multiple fires per day. We quickly discovered our cotton bandannas were no match for the burning embers and thick, black smoke from these huge wildfires.

We attempted to find a mask or device, but nothing existed in any catalog or supplier.  At our station, one of our tasks was to repair PPE clothing and so we set about fashioning a crude Nomex bandanna.

After many failed prototypes, we finally came up with the combination that served our needs; one that was lightweight, filtered out most of the smoke and could keep facial skin intact even with direct blowtorch-level flame applied directly to the mask. The Hot Shield Wildland Firefighter Face Mask was born.

What is your signature product and how does it work?
Although we initially created three models, most firefighters we asked to test our masks said our HS-2 model offered the best combination of user-friendliness, protection and weight.

Since our first prototype in 1993, we have improved on the original several times to make it easier to breathe through, lighter and more ergonomic. Physical laws of thermodynamics show that layering, air-spacing and the right materials can drastically reduce the penetration of direct flame.

All models of our masks work on the same idea: to filter or reduce the amount of inhaled particulate and smoke vapors through the use of different types of readily available filters or respirator elements and create a physical barrier to heat penetration through the use of multiple layers of highly thermally resistant materials combined with air-spacing.

Why do you believe your products are beneficial to the fire community?
The hazards of heat, flame and smoke are apparent to any firefighter who is deployed to structure protection in a wildfire interface zone, a wildfire, grass fire, cane field fire, etc. Without proper protection of one’s face and lungs, the risk of severe burns and smoke inhalation and the cost to hospitalize and rehabilitate can be astronomical.

What has been the biggest challenge your company has faced?
Creating an ergonomically friendly solution that everyone can be happy with has been the biggest challenge.

Not everyone wants exactly the same amount of protection and any increase in protection comes with a corresponding decrease in user-friendliness. We want to make one mask to suit everyone, but firefighters are particular. So to keep everyone happy, we make different masks to suit the different requirements of our firefighting brethren.

What makes your company unique?
We are firefighters ourselves, we invented the mask for our own use and we know what works and what doesn’t and what features we absolutely cannot live without. We make each mask as if we had to wear it ourselves tomorrow.

What do your customers like best about your products?
Firefighters always call or email us just to thank us for making a product that allows them breathe easier and go home to their families. We can definitely relate to them.

What is the most rewarding part of serving the first responder community?
We get to see how well our invention works! We get to see a firefighter’s clean, unburned skin after a hellacious fire experience and hear the stories afterward.

Do you support any charitable organizations?
We help sponsor Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors in California and other charitable organizations efforts toward helping burn victims recover and return to a normal life after their tragic experiences. This has been both humbling and rewarding.

Is there any fun fact or trivia that you’d like to share with our users about you or your company?
We started out by taking our mask to local fire stations to show them our invention. The firefighters would gather around and while their attention was on me, my co-inventor would spark a plumber’s blowtorch and blast the flame onto my face. We witnessed many a firefighter jump backward once that torch hit my face! But we had to prove the Hot Shield worked and we were willing to put our money where our mouth was!
                                                                                
What’s next for your company? Any upcoming new projects or initiatives?
We are constantly improving our masks and creating new models for the different respirator companies. Until wildland firefighters can use a SCBA on the fireground, we will be creating the next best option for them.

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