I’ve walked into the MN8 HQ building hundreds if not thousands of times over the last 5+ years but today was different. I opened the front door early this morning and as I turned on the lights I was taken aback to see nothing on the walls in the hallway.
The hundreds of firefighter patches that used to line the walls and greeted everyone who walked past were in boxes. These patches had been sent to us over the years from departments all over the world. They represented departments ranging from rural small volunteer to major cities to others across the world. All of these patches were from my brother and sister firefighters that used our Foxfire products. Those same products now help over 80,000 firefighters in 25+ countries increase fire-ground safety. Those patches were a constant reminder to me and our entire team about why we do what we do.
I then walked up the stairs to my office and as I rounded the corner, I felt chills and emotions overtake me. My desk was empty. Gone were the pictures of my family on the wall, the cluster of papers and business cards typically found in heaps and the motivational quotes that have inspired me along this entrepreneurial journey. I sat down at my desk and began to reflect on the 5+ years I sat at this desk.
In 2010, as a rookie firefighter, I found myself in a walk-in closet surrounded by smoke and darkness. I was very new to the fire service and we were live-fire training in an abandoned house. I was on my hands and knees searching a bedroom when I found myself in a walk-in type closet. As I got to the back wall, I panicked thinking I was in a hallway. The darkness was so disorienting and losing accountability added to my fear and panic. Even though this horrifying disorientation only lasted a few seconds, it felt like hours. I began to think if I couldn’t find my way out, I was in serious trouble. Later that afternoon, I remember sharing my situation with other more veteran firefighters back at the firehouse and they kind of laughed off my concerns. They flippantly commented that as a firefighter, you have to get used to working in disorientating darkness.
That primal fear of that darkness greatly concerned me, there had to be a better way for me and my fellow firefighters to work in these dark smoky conditions. Several weeks later, I remember learning about how the people who were egressing down the dark stairwells of the World Trade Tower A on February 26th, 1993 experienced the same disorientation and panic after a terrorist’s truck bomb disrupted power plunging the stairwells into darkness. New York City building and fire officials later made a decision that something needed to be done to make sure that if other power failure situations like this happened in the future, people would need to be able to find their way down a stairwell. Even though power generators or back up lighting systems are the primary sources of emergency lighting, they don’t always work. The New York City officials started to mandate photoluminescent markings in the stairwells so they would glow in the dark in the event of a blackout.
Their foresight and planning paid off a few years later on September 11th, 2001 when over 17,500 people were able to egress the World Trade Towers before they ultimately came down. Several times during the 9/11 commission report, this energy free photoluminescence lighting technology was mentioned as helping people find their way out. The events of Sept. 11th inspired me to become a firefighter. The applications of this high-output photoluminescent technology in the stairwells led me to explore using similar technology to make accessories for firefighters to increase accountability and reduce disorientation in the dark. This idea was the basis for creating the brand Foxfire® and I started selling these products out of the trunk of my car. As the business started to grow, I eventually quit my full-time job, refinanced my home, maxed out my credit cards and even started to use my 401(k) retirement savings to finance our growth. I eventually found a small one-bedroom apartment around the corner from my home in the City of Wyoming, Ohio to use as our first office. I hired friends, neighbors, and family to help support our operations. Eventually, we expanded our footprint to include the neighboring apartment as demand grew.
It was at this time, that I realized we could do more than just help firefighters with this Advanced Photoluminescent Technology®. I connected with several venture capital firms and conducted a local version of Shark Tank. I settled on a small firm to raise additional capital. They assured me that if things got tough (and they always do) they would be there for me to help execute my vision of protecting not just my fellow firefighters but all who they protect by launching the brand LumAware®.
As we built up staff, it quickly became clear that we would need to move out of our now two-bedroom apartment turned office to something larger and more appropriate for our growth.
We found a large warehouse with several offices nearby giving us the much-needed room for our growing staff and our expanded manufacturing operations and equipment. With the launch of this new brand LumAware®, we started to build up our portfolio of UL listed and code approved energy free EXIT signs that never need batteries, lightbulbs, electricity or testing.
We also started to produce materials similar to the products used in the World Trade Towers to help make the stairs, landings, and handrails glow in the event of a blackout. The next five-plus years in this location were some of the most exhilarating but also difficult years of my life. It sometimes felt like we were holding a tiger by the tail. Sometimes we got bit, sometimes we were able to have it do what we wanted and sometimes we just held on for dear life.
Many days, weekends and nights were spent in this office celebrating huge wins and trying to figure out how to manage all the challenges that a rapidly growing business faces. We have had the opportunity to count on some of the largest companies in the US as both customers and partners. We have even been picked up by The Home Depot. We have been able to help over 80,000 firefighters reduce disorientation and increase accountability.
We have helped many companies and organizations save millions of dollars with our energy free products at the same time reducing carbon dioxide and eliminating lightbulb and battery waste that ends up in landfills. Most importantly we were able to partner with the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired to start manufacture and assemble our products. This partnership allows us to help provide meaningful work for people whose vision is impaired.
We are able to have people who can’t see, make products for people who can see find their way out of the dark.
This journey ultimately led to today. Our last day in this office as we move to our new headquarters. We were able to honor our roots by finding an 1800’s fire station near our manufacturing partners at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. This historic space has the original wood beams, large exposed brick walls, and rooms named after former fire chiefs honoring Cincinnati’s firefighting roots. Because our raw materials and manufacturing have been transitioned nearby at the association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, we have been able to change our workspace. These large open spaces and outdoor decks will help facilitate a very collaborative working space which will help all of us better help serve our customers, partners and future consumers.
Today was a day I will never forget. It was a day of reflection on not only what got us here but also a day filled with unbridled enthusiasm for the next chapter of LumAware®.Follow us on social media: