Co-Owner, BA Shields
CM: Provide a short overview of BA Shields, the company.
PC: BA Shields is a firefighter-owned-and-operated company based out of Sparks, Nevada. We make reusable self-contained-breathing apparatus (SCBA) lens protection, which doubles as a convenient blackout training tool. Both Cody [Cavin, co-owner] and I have 20 years of combined experience as firefighters and in emergency medical service. We currently serve as career firefighters for the Sparks (NV) Fire Department and saw a need for a product that wasn’t yet developed. Cody started prototyping, and little did we know, things started to snowball—quickly.
CM: Firefighter-owned-and-operated companies have unique challenges. What challenges did you have to overcome that other firefighters considering launching a company can learn from?
PC: Like any startup, we’ve had our fair share. I come from a finance background, and Cody has always been into fabricating anything he can get his hands on. When it all boils down, we are both firefighters at heart. This means we like to solve practical problems. We figured we would make a product and sell a few dozen here or there because we knew people could really use it. What we didn’t expect was how quickly we went from a “craft project” to a legitimate business and how fast we outpaced our business plan. A huge hurdle for us was the transition: making sure we had a tax ID number, insurance, bank accounts, LLC documentation, marketing tools, etc. Our biggest challenge right now is the fact that we run a two-person business and need bigger manufacturing ASAP.
We don’t have any other staff and we don’t outsource anything, which we pride ourselves on. Every piece is custom made by Cody and me. We touch every shield. Add this to a full-time career, on different shift lines, and this gives us two to three days a week to team up, get orders out, create new ideas, and build the business. Everything else has to happen on our own over the phone or via text. Our thumbs are getting a serious workout!
Both of us are family men, which means those two to three days aren’t always devoted to business. We’ve had to adapt to other ways of getting projects and tasks finished on time and accurately. Not going to lie—sometimes we employ our wives. Fortunately, we have been able to get our products out in a timely fashion. One of the biggest things we try to do is be brutally honest with our customers about wait times, which have not yet been excessive. We hope to continue with reasonably fast production, given our two-person team, but will be persistent and clear about wait times. This seems to put everyone at ease.
CM: Describe the process you went through as you developed this product.
PC: We started out with an idea for a more ergonomic way to protect your SCBA face piece while on the fireground. Cody previously worked with leather and started with a leather prototype. We immediately realized we wanted something that would stay OFF the lens that we were trying to protect in the first place. Cody came up with the idea for a hard, durable plastic alternative that was more affordable and more effective. We started with the Scott AV3000 model and have expanded to the MSA Ultra Elite/Firehawk and MSA G1 with the hopes of having a Draeger model soon. We ended up seeking protection for our product through a patent and currently hold Patent Pending status. Being firefighters with a problem to solve, we said, “How hard could that be to write a patent ourselves?” There’s a reason lawyers make the money they do. We ended up securing an amazing patent attorney, but the draft was actually written by Cody and me from scratch—looked over by the attorney, of course.
As local demand for the product soared, we thought to ourselves, “Maybe there’s a market for this.” We then created our business as a means to reach more firefighters and their departments who could use this product to train and protect their gear. Our initial product offerings were red, black, and gray because that was the color of our raw materials. We have since expanded to an extremely durable printing process that allows our customers to customize their shields with names, department logos, or almost anything they can dream up. Our most recent development is our Smoked Out Series Shield, which allows for limited or “smoked” visibility training instead of 100 percent blackout training.
CM: Describe the BA Shields protective face piece cover and the problems you wanted it to provide solutions for.
PC: BA Shields are bombproof covers that keep your SCBA mask lens clear of scratches, nicks, and debris while working on the fireground (in not immediately dangerous to life or health conditions, of course). BA Shields are also the only unlimited-use blackout and limited-visibility training tools on the market. Our problem was that there weren’t any ergonomic ways to protect your SCBA face piece and lens while on the fireground. The mask bags issued by our department were cumbersome and always ended up dangling in front of us as we tried to pull hose, spin hydrants, carry ladders—you name it. They always seemed to be in the way and most of the time were left in the engine on working incidents.
BA Shields allow firefighters to have the freedom of no bulky bag while protecting their face pieces. We were seeing countless firefighters destroy lenses through normal wear and tear. In our department alone, we have seen a 70 percent decrease in annual lens replacement because of normal wear and tear. We were also tired of using household products to simulate zero visibility environments, and believe me, we’ve heard them all: duct tape, spray paint, tire tubes, and even pantyhose. BA Shields give firefighters the ability to quickly don and doff the product while using the mask, so training doesn’t need to be stopped to completely “gear down” during a learning situation because of wearing gear incorrectly.
Our Smoked Out Series offers the same durability and protection but replicates smoky environments without the actual exposure to carcinogens and irritants in a smoky or simulated smoky environment. We all know that in our field, the less exposure the better, and we like to train for the real thing. This can be tricky. Our shields can be used in places where fog machines may be inappropriate for training, such as an operational business, marine vessels (naval ships, submarines, etc.), large warehouses, or fire station basements. The shield also allows firefighters to use thermal imaging cameras to complete training objectives.
With any small business, there are always going to be problems that arise. We pride ourselves in being problem solvers and we continue to adapt our product according to the needs we identify as we work in the field and use the products ourselves. We also have encouraged our consumers and distributors to give us real and honest feedback to make the best product possible.
CM: What keeps you up at night?
PC: Right now, my three-week-old! Kidding aside, our main concern is how to keep up with demand while trying to expand to different SCBA models. Maintaining our values of keeping our product American made with American made raw materials is a high priority which can, unfortunately, be challenging. Luckily, we are up for the challenge.