‘I was there’
Amid the fiery chaos caused by winds, high temperatures and one big thunder cloud, someone in Northern California has been making an attempt to put a smile on firefighters’ faces. That someone is Corey Hunter, owner of California Fire Shirts. He often sets up booths near campsites where firefighters rest between battling blazes, providing them the opportunity to bring home mementos of their work (T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, etc.) to wear long after the smoke clears. Hunter, a former firefighter, started the “incident wearables” company with his wife, Linda, an ex-paramedic, in 1999. For more than a week, they had a booth set up on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway near Costco.
How did you start the company, and what was your motivation?
I had seen something similar back when I was a fireman in the early ‘90s. And as a former firefighter, and my wife a former paramedic, we wanted to start a business that would give something back to the hardworking men and women fighting fires in California. Actually, we cover the whole West, traveling as far as Arizona and Montana in support of those fighting epidemic fires like the ones in Northern California this summer.
What has the overall public reaction in Chico been like?
People love it. People love what we are doing out here for the firefighters. We are from Grass Valley but have been setting up booths for the lightning-storm fires from Ukiah to Anderson to Chico.
Do you think it is in poor taste to sell T-shirts that may be seen as an exploitation of such a disastrous occurrence?
Not at all. And if someone thinks that, I would just say to ask your local firefighters about it, because they will say they love it. They are really happy to have the opportunity to buy the shirts. That is what we are out here for: the firefighters. The clothes give them an opportunity to take something back home with them that says, “I was there.”
Where do your profits end up? Do you donate any of the money to charity?
We donate a lot of money to the Firefighter Burn Institute to help pay for the medical bills of those who suffer serious burns while on duty. We also do our best to support small-town and volunteer fire departments that don’t necessarily have the resources to sustain their practices.