CLAYTON— Law enforcement officers wear many forms of protective gear to stay safe in the line of duty, and during this time of the coronavirus pandemic the Rabun County Sheriff’s Office is taking extra precautions to keep its officers safe.
Sheriff Chad Nichols said that his office received 100 cloth face masks from SHIELD616, an organization that provides protection for peace officers and first responders.
“We were able to get them for every employee here,” Nichols said. He said this includes everyone in the patrol unit, the office, courthouse, jail and School Resource Officers (SROs).
Nichols said that each mask comes with three filters, each which last at least 30 days.
“It’s not just a cotton mask,” Nichols said, noting these filters add a needed level of protection.
In an email to Nichols, a representative from SHIELD 616 explained that “these filters are comparable to hospital-grade air filters.”
They can be washed and air-dried to be used multiple times.
“This will give us something we can use, wash and keep using,” Nichols said.
He said that these masks seem more comfortable than other masks they have used previously.
Nichols said that the department does have one-time-use masks as well as N95 masks for use when needed.
The cloth masks were purchased with fundraising money left over after 33 deputies were outfitted with rifle-rated protective equipment last August.
Community member Tom Madison spearheaded the campaign to raise donations for the protective gear because he wanted to help his local Sheriff’s Office.
He said that he didn’t hesitate for a moment when Nichols approached him about using excess funds to purchase these face masks.
“To me, the vests and face masks go together,” Madison said. He noted that needing face masks to protect officers from COVID-19 is just as important as needing a bullet proof vest to protect them in the line of duty.
“I’m happy that he (Nichols) found a way to use the funds,” Madison said.
Nichols said that the masks come as a design shaped like a t-shirt to be cut out. There are three slots at each ear so the mask can be sized to ensure it fits each person’s face appropriately. They are then sewn together to be worn, leaving a slot to insert the filter.
“I think everybody is excited,” Nichols said about deputies receiving the masks.
Madison said he felt grateful to be able to provide the Sheriff’s Office with these masks so quickly, because it often takes a long time to receive them.
“I just can’t thank the donors enough who contributed [to having our department outfitted with protective gear],” Nichols said.