WILLIS, Texas — School bus parts supplier Heavy Duty Bus Parts Inc. (HDBP) has completed its first of many planned prototype personal protective equipment (PPE) samples to help medical professionals combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
The supplier’s surgical masks (made of waterproof, non-woven, breathable fabric, Smeltzer told School Bus Fleet,) are ready for production. Meanwhile, its N95 face masks, which block 95% of all particulate matter, are nearly ready to be sent for National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health certification, according to a news release from the supplier. HDBP is also looking to expand into surgical gowns and headwear if there is a demand for it.
“While watching the news a few weeks back, I kept hearing about PPE equipment and a possible shortage,” said Branden Smeltzer, HDBP’s general manager. “I also knew that about 85% of our customers were shutting down due to stay-at-home orders or a decision made by the superintendent of schools in their respective areas.”
Smeltzer also said that given that supplier’s small staff of 11 employees, layoffs were not an option. Since HDBP has the necessary machinery to make the equipment, Smeltzer immediately began researching face mask standards, contacting elected officials, and evaluating startup costs. That led to purchasing equipment and raw materials, and to ultimately completing the company’s first prototype out of some school bus-specific textiles that were available in HDBP’s warehouse.
“With the uncertainty of what the future of our business is, we are still committed to doing our part to support those who are in need the most,” said Kristen Billingsley, HDBP’s president. “We are in an industry that bleeds yellow and everyone is committed to the ultimate goal of saving children’s lives. HDBP will always bleed that yellow, but right now, the country needs to bleed red and white for those medical professionals putting their lives on the line every single day, and we need to do that in a responsible manner — not in a way to cheat the system or to get rich.”
HDBP is now waiting for medical-grade raw materials to arrive to manufacture its surgical masks and expects to have its first completed run this week. The supplier estimates being able to produce 5,000 completed masks each day, to cut up to 58,000 unfinished masks (that would still need the edges hemmed and elastic added, Smeltzer told SBF) daily if needed. HDBP also hopes to get the N95 masks certified within days.
HDBP staff members have realized the desperate need for these supplies as they called local medical facilities and school districts that are delivering food using their buses. However, even with the demand, Smeltzer has reassured customers and medical professionals that HDBP will retrofit a portion of the operation for masks and will keep pricing at a markup of 15% above total cost for PPEs.
In the meantime, HDBP can still fulfill orders for school bus seat covers and parts.