Firefighters shooting water

Fighting wildfires and the coronavirus

At Firefighter Safety, a California small business, good customer service means good community service

For Carol and Jack Evans, the gear they sell may mean the difference between life and death for their customers – a fact that changes the nature of their business. “We serve everyone ranging from young firefighters at the local community college fire academy to the Los Angeles Fire Department,” says Carol Evans. "It’s very personal for us, it’s not just a business transaction; they rely on us to help them stay safe.”

For the past 30 years, Firefighter Safety has provided local fire houses and firefighters across Southern California with critical safety equipment. And by keeping first responders prepared, the business has played an important role in keeping local communities safe through floods, automobile accidents and other emergencies.

With the coronavirus and subsequent stay-at-home orders, the Evans’s found themselves facing dual challenges—not only was their livelihood threatened, but closing would also mean cutting off many of the boots, helmets, fireproof clothing and other essential supplies firefighters needed to serve those same communities fighting the pandemic. “When the coronavirus hit, Jack and I had to quarantine,” Carol recalls. “Luckily, our kids and full team were able to keep the business running. However, with so many firefighter training programs temporarily delayed, our business saw a huge drop in revenue,” explained Carol. “At first, we really weren’t sure how we’d be able to keep the store going and our full team on staff without help.”

Help came in the form of a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which the business received with the support of their Bank of America banker, Roberto Chung. It enabled the Evans family to keep their team intact and pay for the necessary adjustments—including social distancing protocols and proper PPE—to meet state coronavirus mandates. It also meant that many local firefighters were better prepared for the next emergency, an invaluable asset when, in the midst of the coronavirus, California experienced wildfires of a size and scope not seen in the state’s recorded history.

Just as important for Carol and Jack, the loan helped make sure they were ready when they could once again greet customers personally. “We had our online store to help keep us connected, but there’s nothing like working face-to-face with our firefighters,” says Carol. “We want to be here for our community in good times and in bad.”

To date, Bank of America has distributed over $26 billion in PPP loans to more than 345,000 clients, 99% of which has gone to businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Learn more about how the bank is supporting clients and communities and their small businesses during this unprecedented time.

Originally published 12/03/2020