'We feel like we really make a difference': Safety is Delta-based company's business
First Aid & Survival Technologies makes emergency-preparedness products for use across Canada
Still Standing is a series about small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio The Early Edition.
Emergency-preparedness is something many British Columbians are conscious of, living, as we do, in a seismically-active region. But even if you have an emergency kit stashed in your closet, you may not have thought about where those kits come from.
A long-standing company in Delta, BC has been making such products since the 1980s — and they're stitched together right in their warehouse, on the banks of the Fraser River.
"Whenever we bring customers here for a tour and I show them into the sewing room they always say 'you make that here?'" says Carmen Ewles, the general manager of F.A.S.T. Limited, which stands for First Aid & Survival Technologies.
"I think people are kind of used to the idea that manufacturing is done offshore. So we're very proud of what we're doing here."
The second floor of their Delta building contains a sewing shop where employees cut out and stitch together bags and vests made to order. They also do repairs on bags that see heavy use, such as emergency kits used by B.C.'s Ministry of Forests.
"Instead of throwing the bags out at the end of the season when they're all dirty, they actually send them back to us and we clean them, repair them and then repack them again," says Ewles.
"It saves them a lot of money, and it's really good for sustainability in that they're not just throwing things out that could be repaired."
The company also manufactures emergency food and water rations for the kits in a kitchen in their warehouse.
"There was a big process for us to get our Transport Canada certification in the beginning, in the early 1990s and we've maintained it since then," says Ewles. "We've been, still to this day, the only company in Canada to do this.
"There's five in the world and we're one of them."
F.A.S.T. Limited was originally incorporated in 1985 as a safety consulting company. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake inspired them to develop an emergency product line for corporate and government organizations.
These days, F.A.S.T.'s clients include B.C. Hydro, the Coast Guard, Finning, and B.C. Ferries, as well as many school districts and municipalities.
In fact, they're the largest supplier of emergency preparedness products in Canada.
Dee Miller, president and one of the co-founders of F.A.S.T. Limited, says the company has seen some challenges over the years, with occasional competitors popping up to offer similar products at cheaper prices.
But Miller says the company weathered those challenges by keeping its focus on fast delivery and quality products.
F.A.S.T. is proud of its core team of employees, many of whom are new Canadians. Ewles says on average, F.A.S.T. employees have been with the company for 16 years. Ewles has been with the company since 1996.
"It is a long time but every day is a new day," she says. "You never know what the day is going to bring so I can say in all honesty I have never been bored a single day working here."
Ewles says the business has endured because of its loyal customer base as well as the loyalty of its employees.
"We're all really invested," she says. "And we feel like we really make a difference."
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