Though the coronavirus pandemic has run rampant throughout the U.S. for the majority of 2020, an ongoing story, which has resulted in a number of company pivots and launches, has been the availability of high quality personal protective equipment. One of those stories revolves around two North Texas entrepreneurs: John Bielamowicz and David Baillargeon.
The duo saw that a limited supply of PPE was forcing healthcare workers, first responders, and front line workers to reuse N95 respirators or other forms of face coverings that had been imported from around the world. To Bielamowicz, who is the president of Biel Partners, and Baillargeon, the vice president of Baillargeon Realty, this was unacceptable.
So the co-founders—who double as partners and friends—decided to found United States Mask, a supplier of solely American-made PPE.
United States Mask is built on the idea that everything is made “in America, for Americans.” Headquartered in Addison with a manufacturing plant in Fort Worth, the company uses materials sourced from the U.S. to make N95-certified masks.
It even recently launched its own iteration of an N95 particulate respirator called The 1836—and it’s already been certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
“We’re working hard to rectify this situation with The 1836,” Bielamowicz said in a release. “This is an American-made mask, manufactured to extremely stringent requirements, based on ISO 9001 and NIOSH’s 42 CFR Part 84 quality standards. Additionally, materials are sourced mainly from U.S. suppliers.”
According to Bielamowicz and Baillargeon, their homegrown mission means that professionals have access to N95s that come with assured protection and dependability. United States Mask aims to avoid disruption from international supply chains and improve access to products that could help save lives.
It’s a stringent vision for a new company, but Bielamowicz and Baillargeon are keen on playing a part in keeping those directly affected by COVID-19 safe. United States Mask was actually born from the co-founders’ own experiences.
A few years ago, Bielamowicz’s son, Matthew, was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, a late-term defect that meant the diaphragm didn’t form properly while the baby was in utero. What followed was two open surgeries at nine days old and weeks in Parkland’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“We brought them a sick infant, and they sent us home with our son,” Bielamowicz said. “When we walked out of that hospital, we left with a gift far greater than anything I knew I could repay.”
Though Matthew is now prospering, Bielamowicz says he couldn’t bear the thought of local healthcare workers like those who helped his son suffering from a lack of PPE.
“To put it bluntly, American first responders and those on the front lines should not be reliant on outsourced products from other countries for their safety,” he said.
Baillargeon’s story is similarly based on family. Because when the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit, Baillargeon was in the midst of preparing for the arrival of his first son in August.
Baillargeon was asked to assist in locating a large quantity of N95 respirators, and said he felt an obligation to help the doctors and nurses who were helping his new family during a stressful time. But, he hit some roadblocks.
Here’s what happened next, according to the team:
Baillargeon quickly came to find that N95 respirators weren’t available in the United States. His next step involved contacting distributors in China. One of his phone calls was to his friend and now business partner, John Bielamowicz. The duo got to work, and even had some success getting extra N95 respirators into the United States. But the bulk of the respirators never made it. Some were held up at the border in China, while others were stuck in U.S. Customs. Still thousands of others were lost in transit.
“We asked ourselves, why are we relying on other countries to provide this extremely crucial PPE?” Baillargeon said. “Why aren’t we manufacturing enough PPE here in the USA to protect and provide dependability should this continue and/or happen again?”
So that’s when Baillargeon and Bielamowicz decided to invest their own money to procure the machinery and materials for their own PPE venture. Now, they plan to produce around a million masks a month from their Fort Worth warehouse.
And, the co-founders call The 1836 a “declaration of commitment” to the healthcare and front line workers across the country.
“Both David and I are husbands and fathers,” Bielamowicz said. “For the gifts we’ve been given in our own families, the mission of this company is something that is deeply personal.”
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