FMF Cape Scott, NFS(A) sewing face coverings for Formation Halifax
By Ryan Melanson,
Despite working in a reduced capacity, staff at Fleet Maintenance Facility (FMF) Cape Scott and sailors from Naval Fleet School (Atlantic) (NFS(A)) are now directly contributing to the fight against COVID-19 and the efforts to keep members of Formation Halifax safe and healthy.
Small sewing operations at each location are now producing a combined average of about 450 fabric face coverings per day to be distributed to ship’s companies, shore units and any other members of the defence team who require them.
After limiting the physical presence of employees in the work place on March 13, and as the scope of the pandemic situation began to make itself clear, members of the FMF team quickly began brainstorming ways they could use their expertise to help.
“We have a fantastic production facility staffed by incredible, creative and inventive people, and they wanted to be part of the response. I’m very proud of this group,” said Capt(N) David Benoit, who was the Commanding Officer at Cape Scott until April 24.
Soon after, NDHQ requested that Cape Scott, it’s sister site FMF Cape Breton, and other CAF production facilities begin working toward a face covering design that would be appropriate for CAF members. Because they had been considering this ahead of time, FMF was in position to begin producing immediately once a design was approved, and was able to have their first 1000 masks produced in the week following Easter.
“We were ready to go with our team and we had things up and running almost immediately,” said Evan McKeen, a floor supervisor overseeing the work. They started with seven staff members from the Marine Survival shop, and have since recruited a few more volunteers who are helping with cutting materials, packaging the finished products, and other small tasks.
To increase the production capacity, the team also contacted NFS(A), where Boatswains olearn sewing skills as part of their training. Both locations are now producing the coverings, which are packaged in kits of two along with instructions on how to wear them properly. Members of the FMF workforce were some of the first to receive the product, and Base Logistics will now handle the distribution to those who need them across the Formation.
“The masks are available for anyone in the Formation to use, including our Op LASER designated forces,” said FMF Production Manager Derek Cann.
Leadership and management at FMF gave the credit for the quick success of the project to the workers, who were eager to help from the beginning and volunteered to come into work at a time when many of their colleagues are being told to stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“They’re certainly doing a great job of maintaining the physical distancing, because it’s quite a large area of the shop where the work is being done, but these people are still putting aside their own personal concerns about COVID-19, so they can come in and support the cause,” McKeen said. He added that FMF’s supply and procurement team have also been crucial in tracking down the needed materials at a time of high demand.
The local production of the face coverings is part of a three-stage plan through ADM (Materiel) to supply the CAF and DND with face coverings, and it’s expected that a contract with proper material fabricators will soon be in place to provide a large, steady supply. Until then, however, the locally-produced product will help essential workplaces operate more safely.
Feedback has been positive from those who’ve started wearing the masks during their work days. Union leadership at FMF reported their members found them to be comfortable and breathable, and that the accompanying instructions helped with ease of use.
“I think we’ll be hearing more of that from other people as we start getting these issued around the Formation,” Capt(N) Benoit said.