UW-Eau Claire alum using business to make personal protection equipment

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - As the nation's healthcare system deals with a shortage of medical supplies, a UW-Eau Claire alum is looking to use his business to help

When Steve Kriesel started Torpedo Bags back in 2001, he had no idea that one day he would be making masks for medical professionals. But when his wife, a registered nurse in Minneapolis, shared stories about a mask shortage at her hospital, he knew he needed to do something to help.

“We want to get this rolling and help save lives,” Kriesel said. “I just heard on my radio driving in to do the interview, that 15% of confirmed cases are healthcare workers nationwide.”

Kriesel said his eight-man crew could make roughly 10,000 masks a week. But the problem isn't production; it's funding.

“I think 50,000 is going to be enough to buy the materials and make 10,000 masks. I've been up until 2 a.m. probably four or five of the last seven nights e-mailing senators, congresspeople, the governors office, hospital staff,” he said. “When I've talked to inventory managers at major hospitals around here, they don't have money for it themselves.”

Another issue is the masks he can make would not be the government standard N-95 masks, but says they are close.

“The hang-up seems to be that they arent N-95s. The government entities have standards they have to meet, the problem is, there arent anymore N-95 masks,” Kriesel said. “Are they going to wait until everyone is completely out or are they going to do this stop-gap?”

Although they are not N-95 quality, Kriesel said the masks his employees can make have some unique advantages over the standard, because they can be cleaned and re-used.

“They are breathable, washable, you can put them in an autoclave to sanitize them and they are durable,” Kriesel said. “Is it perfect, no. is it as good as the n-95 mask, no. But it is pretty good.”

Once he is able to secure funding, Kriesel says he will donate every mask made to healthcare facilities that need them.

“I want the donations to come in, I want it to go to materials and labor and get these masks where they are needed.”

Kriesel said he received a $10,000 on Saturday from three Eau Claire business. For more information and ways you can help, click here.