AshFireWear moves toward safety certification

·2 min read

A 34-year-old Ktunaxa entrepreneur has taken the next step toward certifying her apparel for firefighters in Canada.

Ashley O’Neil, owner of AshFireWear, recently sent a sample of the biodegradable fabric for her newest product line to the University of Alberta (U of A) for quality assurance and testing.

“We’re in the testing phase right now,” said O’Neil. “I had my fabric sent to the U of A. It goes through all kinds of tests, they stretch it, they burn it — all kinds of things — to see how much heat it can take.”

The fabric from her line is being used on clothing and face-masks for firefighters and contract work crews, and O’Neil hopes to meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards after being certified.

“We only sent seven-to-eight metres of testing,” explained O’Neil by phone. “This whole testing phase, we knew it was going to happen, but we didn’t know how expensive it was going to be.”

Now, O’Neil and AshFireWear’s newest hire are currently working toward assembling some garments for additional testing.

“We’re sewing three sets of garments, and they (U of A) put it on dummies with sensors to test the (fabric’s) ability and the patterns (from our line). Then, they put it on video and send it to us.”

She says the quality assurance and safety testing is expected to take between six-to-eight weeks.

O’Neil remains optimistic about launching the AshFireWear product line by the spring of 2021. However, there have been some unexpected costs associated with starting up a business catering to firefighters and having the desired safety certification to boot.

“I didn’t realize how expensive it was getting into the fire world,” she explained. “You can make a lot of money but you have to follow the NFPA standards.”

Currently, O’Neil has spent $50,000 on her own to get AshFireWear up and running. Now, she’s looking for a prospective investor or a grant that may be able to help cover the cost of $15,000 for safety checks, manufacturing and operations that support the NFPA’s codes and standards for the firefighting and forestry industry.

For more information about AshFireWear, contact O’Neil through the Ktunaxa Ready website at: https://ktunaxaready.com/listings/listing/ashfirewear/

Breanne Massey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer