Editor’s note: I recently traveled to Ada with my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, where we had the opportunity to tour a plant that makes “turnout” gear for firefighters across the world. This is my report:
By Jim Stafford
ADA – Jannette Orr stood on MSA’s Globe turnout gear manufacturing floor in Ada and held up a firefighter coat that was under construction at the plant.
Bright yellow letters on the back read “OKLA CITY.”
Globe’s Ada plant and its 48 employees are producing 510 sets of three-layer firefighter jackets and pants for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, said Roger Page, Operations Manager for Globe’s three production facilities in Ada, Okla., Pittsfield, N.H. and Auburn, Maine.
“Recently, we reacquired the Oklahoma City contract,” Page said as he led me and colleagues from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) on a tour of the Ada production plant.
“Oklahoma City had previously been in our gear, and we’re excited to have them back,” he said.
Globe was founded in 1887 as a family-owned producer of protective clothing for firefighters and headquartered in Pittsfield, N.H. It was acquired in July 2017 by MSA Safety Inc., a publicly traded corporation headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Globe opened the Ada plant almost 16 years ago.
“We were having a really hard time hiring enough workers in the Pittsfield area, and we learned that Wrangler was leaving this area and had a very similar weight of fabric to that which we use,” said Page, who has worked for Globe for 36 years. “We decided to explore this area, and the Ada Jobs Foundation did a great job, almost recruiting us.”
Coalgate native Orr was among the former Wrangler employees who migrated to Globe, starting on the production floor as a stitcher. Today she is the plant manager, and personally trains new hires on the complexities of running sophisticated machinery.”
“Our workforce here is doing great,” Orr said. “We try to start them off on the right track. They work hard and steady. We make sure they have good benefits, because the employees here are like family.”
Globe uses what is known as the Toyota Sewing System in Ada to assemble the firefighter suits. It’s a manufacturing philosophy that began in Japan and moves each garment from station to station.
“As you look around the facility here, everything is done in single piece flow, with standup operations and more machines than there are people because they bump their operations as they go through the cell,” Page said. “It makes the operations a lot more flexible, and the workers aren’t stuck in one spot doing the same thing all day.”
Globe produces two of its seven styles of “turnout gear” or “bunker gear” – insider speak for firefighter protective apparel – at the Ada plant. Each firefighter garment has three layers that consist of an outer shell, a thermal liner and a moisture barrier.
“We have a host of options that can go on those base garments,” Page said. “For example, we have over 400 different sizes of radio pockets alone.”
Globe’s operation has benefited by a relationship with the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, which is a partner with OCAST in the Oklahoma Innovation Model that provides assistance to small manufacturers and new ventures across the state.
“I’m just really impressed with the amount of effort that Oklahoma puts into supporting manufacturers, whether it’s the Ada Jobs Foundation, the Pontotoc Technology Center training center or the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance,” Page said. “All of that is phenomenal.”
In addition to Oklahoma City, Globe produces garments for firefighters in numerous other Oklahoma communities. Ada’s proximity to Oklahoma City afforded the city’s fire department an opportunity to eyeball their equipment under construction, Page said.
“It’s only fitting to be able to produce Oklahoma City’s firefighting gear an hour and a half away here in Ada,” he said. “They are excited to come down and watch their gear being built and meet the people building it.”
Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).