During this year’s COVID-19 emergency, having an adequate supply of face masks became essential. They were also in high demand and short supply. LADWP crews, especially those in the power system, not only needed masks to wear on the job, but needed masks that were fire-resistant, aka Arc Resistant (AR).

LADWP’s power system has nearly 3,000 full-time AR clothing wearers who need masks to maintain their compliance with Cal/OSHA regulations. To satisfy this demand, LADWP looked to retool its own automotive upholstery shop, which normally handles vehicle seats, belts, pouches and other related items. Out went some old equipment, in went two new industrial-strength sewing machines, and fire-resistant material that was found in storage. Francisco Villalobos-Casillas, already a master upholsterer after only two years with LADWP, suddenly became a master mask maker. He and an assistant quickly produced up to 200 masks per day. Most recently, the masks are being made with synthetic AR material.

5 Sidebar 1 LADWP Covid LineworkerAn LADWP lineman works while wearing a mask made by the utility’s automotive upholstery shop. (Chris Corsmeier, LADWP Photographer)

“This is a completely different animal,” Villalobos-Casillas said. “We brought in new cutting tables and special machines that clean the material as they cut. There was definitely a learning curve.”

Upholstery has always been a place to find loose change, after-dinner mints and paper clips. It’s nice to see that it’s also where LADWP found a fast, workable solution to a big challenge.

Header image: LADWP’s automotive upholstery shop retools to sew fire-resistant masks for crewmembers. (Chris Corsmeier, LADWP Photographer)