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Area businesses making medical gowns, masks for hospital

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Simms Fishing Products has stopped making outdoor equipment in its Bozeman plant and is now producing medical gowns for Bozeman Health.

Simms, which delivered its first batch of reusable gowns on Friday, is one of several local businesses designing and manufacturing personal protective equipment in the face of a nationwide shortage stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

“In times of need, we want to do what we can,” said community specialist John Frazier. “We want to help the men and women in the medical field stay safe.”

Simms and Bozeman Health worked on the new medical gowns with financial donations from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation and the Arthur M. Blank Foundation.

“As we all work together to overcome this health crisis, we’re grateful to be able to contribute to this unique community partnership to help those most in need,” said Danielle Thomsen, with the Arthur M. Blank Foundation.

Like Simms, Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision Technologies, sister companies in Belgrade, have joined local efforts. The two companies are now making masks at their hangar near Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport.

This weekend, the companies produced their first mask and plan to donate 1,000 to Bozeman Health and local fire departments. Some may be sent to other places in the state, said Tim Sheehy, CEO of Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision Technologies.

The two companies also diverted workers from building their new hangar to constructing additional beds at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital and have made aircraft available for Bozeman Health to transport patients and supplies.

“This is small, but every bit helps,” Sheehy said.

Spark R&D, another local manufacturer, has been trying to make it easier for companies to produce masks. The business took a design for a 3D-printed mask — called the Montana Mask — and modified it for injection molding.

“We want to address the shortage, and with injection molding, we can make 1,000 per day instead of three per hour,” said marketing manager Dan Ventura.

Spark R&D has made the injection-molding design available for free on its website. The local business is also using the design to produce masks. Spark R&D delivered its first 2,400 masks to Billings Clinic on Saturday and is making more.

“We are used to making splitboard bindings and accessories, so switching to masks has its challenges, but we are learning as we go and are committed to this,” Ventura said.

Blackhawk, a tactical gear manufacturer in Manhattan, Mont., has been preparing to use Spark R&D’s design to make injection-molded masks and is also considering working with a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to produce the masks, said operations manager Lamont Kotter. Production will likely begin in the coming weeks.

“We are trying to do this because we want to help,” Kotter said.

As manufacturers step up to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 35 businesses, nonprofits and individuals formed the Southwest Montana Community Organizations Active in Disaster to coordinate local efforts.

The new group, which includes emergency management officials from Gallatin, Madison and Park counties, has already launched a response fund, coordinated child care for essential workers and created a directory of volunteer opportunities through the Greater Gallatin United Way.

“We recognize that there is only so much government can do, (and) the nonprofit sector of our community plays an important role in emergency response,” said Patrick Lonergan, Gallatin County chief of emergency management, in a news release on Monday. “Often their coordination is what makes a community resilient and contributes to the community’s ability to bounce back from crisis.”

Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.