Gabe Donohoe, lead sewer, works on creating face shields for people with hearing loss or deafness. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Gabe Donohoe, lead sewer, works on creating face shields for people with hearing loss or deafness. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Local mask-making company continues to grow

Their design is widely sought after for its specialized use

A local company, created to deal with the personal protective equipment shortage present at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, has expanded and stabilized as it pivots to providing masks for the deaf and other niche markets.

“We’re having more and more people come to us and say they want this product for things we never thought of,” said Hal Daugherty, founder and CEO of Rapid Response PPE. “The hospital ones will have the removable shrouds. The ones for kids will have the fun cartoon things.”

While the CDC advises that children under age 2 should not wear masks, these are not cloth masks in direct contact with the face, nor are they intended for children that young.

Daugherty stood the company up in March as an effort to create and donate PPE for first responders and medical personnel. With that mission accomplished, the organization moved into creating more designs and recovering costs incurred.

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire                                Shay McCormick, left, and Katie McCaffrey, work on preparing materials for use in face shields for people with hearing loss.

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire Shay McCormick, left, and Katie McCaffrey, work on preparing materials for use in face shields for people with hearing loss.

“Our goal here wasn’t to make money,” Daugherty said. “It was to do something good for the community.”

While the masks are now being sold, much of the cost went to offsetting Daugherty’s initial investment.

One of the biggest successes of that, face masks allowing deaf people and people with partial hearing loss to see the mouths of the speaker, was noticed by a number of forums for audiologists across the country. Word spread, and Rapid Response PPE was suddenly inundated with requests from groups across the country — and planet.

“When we first started, we must have had 500 emails,” said Deborah Rodriguez, HR manager for the company. “What we’ve done is every day, we have to check every email. Everything changes every day.”

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire                                Workers strive to fulfill orders for face shields for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing deaf people and people with hearing loss to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020.

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire Workers strive to fulfill orders for face shields for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing deaf people and people with hearing loss to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020.

The company started sending out international orders on Friday, sending orders to Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom. Demand in school districts, schools for the deaf, audiologists and others from Alaska to California to Texas to New York is also growing, Daugherty said.

“You hear stories like that,” Daugherty said. “We had one lady come in with tears in her eyes. She told me ‘I couldn’t hear, and now, I can.’”

According to Melissa McCormick, operations manager for the company, more than 6,000 of the face shields have gone out already. The masks went into production a little over two weeks ago, McCormick said.

Large cruises banned in Canada at least until Oct. 31

“What we’re finding out is a lot of school districts in the United States have contacted us,” Daugherty said. “It’s floor to ceiling with boxes every day. We can’t keep up.”

The shop employs local men and women, many of whom would otherwise be working in the tourist hospitality industry during the summer.

“I like working here. It was a good opportunity,” said Shay McCormick, a University of Alaska Anchorage student home for the summer. “It’s just a good thing that we’re all doing.”

Carl Ferlauto, left, and Hal Daugherty discuss the design for their face shield for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing people with hearing loss or deaf people to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Carl Ferlauto, left, and Hal Daugherty discuss the design for their face shield for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing people with hearing loss or deaf people to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

McCormick had the idea to integrate leftover material into face shields intended for children, creating animal ears or fantasy elements such as fairy tiaras into the masks.

“I was just cutting out the foam and thought it’d look good and be a good idea,” McCormick said.

The company is also trying to donate masks and money to other local organizations where it can, including St. Vincent de Paul Juneau, Daugherty said. They’ve also worked to donate some PPE to residents of Pelican, Craig, Tenakee and Angoon, Daugherty said.

“We’re creating a product that’s helping people be safe,” Daugherty said. “We’re creating jobs where people come here to work. And we’re allowing people to go back to work.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor during the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Emergency order bans king salmon fishing in many Juneau waters between June 24 and Aug. 31

Alaska Department of Fish and Game says low projected spawning population necessitates restrictions

Most Read