Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2001

Firefighters’ fundraisers spark giving

September 27, 2001

Broken bones, eye surgery and bleeding sinuses may make some squeamish. For one Eudora manufacturer and distributor they mean business.

M-Pact Worldwide Inc., bases its business on making it easier for physicians and other medical professionals to do theirs. It supplies them with instruments ranging from pointed sponges used in eye surgery to splinting and casting materials for broken bones to nasal packings.

But patients won't find their products in the United States alone. In 1990, none of the company's sales were overseas. That number has now risen to 30 percent.

"That's how we've been able to grow our business," said Chief Operating Officer Barry Price. "In the U.S. marketplace there's a lot more competition. It's difficult to compete with 3M and Johnson & Johnson."

In August, the company sent four 18-wheeler-sized shipments overseas one each to France, Korea, Taiwan and China.

"We had a little celebration," Price said, adding that this year has been the company's best sales year ever. The celebration included a kickoff party and the Eudora High School band.

Despite worldwide connections, M-Pact is a small business employing 120 workers split between two buildings, one mainly an office and the other for manufacturing and distributing.

The lobby of the office is furnished with a living room-like sectional sofa and a mannequin sporting black shorts and a yellow polo shirt with the company logo.

"I went from a big company to a smaller one, which is a lot more fun," said Price, whose business background had him in another medical area: pharmaceuticals.

Now Price gets to see how products are used up close, like when he went to the Hunkeler Eye Center and saw laser surgery performed using the sponges M-Pact manufactures and distributes.

"One of our products we make is a large piece of sponge," Price said. "When they're doing hip replacement surgery and drill into the bone they have to sop up the blood. It's not a very pretty procedure."

Making and distributing the materials aren't as gory but require precision nonetheless. Products needing sterility, like the eye sponges, are made and packaged behind clear plastic material set up as walls in the 20,000 square foot main office building. Inside, employees work in surgical scrubs with their hands and heads covered. M-Pact makes 30 million eye sponges each year.

The boxed sterile products are then stored behind glass in locked cabinets. Across the street it gets a little messier.

In the operation's second building, boasting 40,000 square feet, workers scurry around on floors covered with a fine, white chalk. This isn't a place to wear dark clothing, Price said.

Cotton gauze spools through the contraption, which looks like a newspaper printing press, on a series of rollers. Seven-foot tall tubs feed plaster of Paris into the machine, which coats the rolling gauze but stops it from hardening entirely. When the physicians wet the material while applying the cast, the plaster will complete hardening. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.

Many of the gauze's small square openings are now filled with plaster, leaving the material reminiscent of delicate lacework. Lifts move the rolls of material onto shelves, in a part of the building that looks like a carpet outlet store.

The rolls are then sliced into different sizes for different purposes. Some of them will be grouped together and sonnel from around the area banded together to collect money for relief as well as offer their services.

Funds from the boot drive came in as $90 checks, $20, $10 and $5 bills and change one woman dumped from her purse. The collecting took place on street corners all around Eudora.

"We were driving away, and we had people following us to give us money," Wilkerson said. "We could have stayed out there all day."

T-shirts sold at Friday's football game earned $890 for the same cause, Wilkerson said.

Eudora, Baldwin, Lawrence, and other area authorities banded together to sell the T-shirts around Douglas County. Sheriff's Department Lt. Doug Woods, also a Eudora city council member, and Lawrence firefighter Doug Green came up with the idea to make T-shirts commemorating the loss.

"Doug Green and I said we wished we could do something," Woods said. "We're kind of removed from it here in Lawrence. A lot of these guys lost their lives doing their jobs."

The profits from the T-shirts will go to the New York Public Service Relief Fund to help out other police officers and firefighters and their families.

On the front, the shirts say "Remember our Fallen Brothers and Sisters: Sept. 11, 2001" with a large American flag. On the back, the shirt lists the names of area police and fire departments involved. They come in children's sizes medium and large, and adults sizes medium to extra large, and cost $10. An adults double extra large runs $12.

Order forms for the shirts are available at the Eudora Fire Department or Sunday at the Hobby Lobby, 1801W, 23rd St., in Lawrence. Wood said the first printing sold out, and 1,700 more were ordered. They will be sold at EudoraFest next weekend. Douglas County Bank branches can take donations from those who want to contribute to the cause but don't want a T-shirt.

When Eudora volunteer firefighter Dan Breedlove heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, sending a check to the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army didn't seem like enough.

"Writing a check doesn't cut it for people who are used to helping people," Breedlove said. "It just go the point where I said, 'Lets call FEMA.'"

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is organizing volunteers in New York. Breedlove and other Eudora volunteer firefighters are waiting to hear back from the administration to see whether their help is needed in the Big Apple.

"We anticipate if they're going to need us to help, it would be in the next week or so," Breedlove said. "There's going to be a lot of fatigued people. There's always stuff to be done after."

If FEMA allows Breedlove and other area volunteer firefighters to go, they will need to find a way to get there as well as a way to finance the trip. Breedlove said the Eudora Fire Department has an account the volunteers could use, although the trip would be independent of the department.

"I've mentioned it to some folks here at work," Breedlove said. "People are willing to reach in their pocketbooks."

The potential volunteers have also contacted and are waiting to hear from the Salvation Army, which arranges volunteers and could provide them with transportation to New York.

Although a handful of volunteers are interested, getting time off work to make the trip may cut down on participation. But Breedlove hoped employers would be flexible because many people are looking for some way to help.

Breedlove said nine volunteer firefighters had made arrangements with employers to leave if necessary, but that doesn't mean all nine would go.

"We wouldn't wan to reduce the effectiveness of the department here," he said. "We're willing to go, but we're not willing to compromise safety here."

There are also a lot of departments between Kansas and New York, although Breedlove said the Salvation Army sent firefighters from Platt City, Mo.

In the meantime, potential volunteers will have to wait.

"I think it's driving some of us a little crazy not being able to do anything," Breedlove said.

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