DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Season two of Chicago Fire came to a dramatic end for all of Firehouse 51, but did you know that a big star of the hit television show hails from here at home?
The producers of NBC’s Chicago Fire wanted the drama to be as authentic as possible. So, they turned to the company that outfits the Windy City’s real firefighting heroes: LION, based right here in the Miami Valley.
“The biggest challenge is to balance the needs for comfort and protection,” said Andrew Schwartz, secretary and corporate counsel at Lion and co-owner.
LION has been making firefighting apparel, or turnout gear as it’s called, since the 1970’s; testing and developing material tough enough to withstand deadly conditions.
LION has 100 employees in Dayton, about a thousand internationally and clientele worldwide.
“We serve seven of the top 10 largest cities in the United States, 50 of the top 100 cities in the United States, but also provide gear to cities such as Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Adelaide, Australia,” said Steve Schwartz, LION CEO and co-owner.
And to think, it all started in a wagon 100 years ago in Dayton. Brothers Steve and Andrew Schwartz are continuing what their great-grandfather started in about 1898.
“Only about, I think, two and a half to three percent of companies make it to the fourth generation,” said Steve Schwartz. “So, that’s something that’s a major accomplishment that we hope to continue on into the fifth and sixth generation.”
LION has a history of making clothes that work. “Something we’re particularly proud of, especially for being in the Dayton community, is the work we did with the Wright Air Base during WWII,” he said. Working with General Electric, LION innovated the electronically-heated flight suit used by B-17 bomber pilots; critical for combating cold temperatures at such altitudes.
Protecting those who protect us is a family value at LION. Chicago firefighters don’t wear LION helmets, but you may recognize the ‘Pepsi Blue’ colored helmet. “It’s in Sugarcreek Township, a local department, and that actually matches their fire trucks,” said Courtney Biser, plant manager for LION manufacturing.
The turnout gear is made in Kentucky, the firefighting helmets in Kettering and boy can these composite caps take a hit!
“We had one gentleman who had an ax dropped on his head from the roof of a building and it didn’t penetrate the helmet shell,” said Biser. “All it did was cause a scratch. It saved his life and he can still wear his helmet today.”
They say it’s rewarding to see LION turnout gear in action on the small screen, but the bigger reward is keeping real firefighters safe.
“It’s really, really heartening to know that this is the contribution we’re having,” said Andrew Schwartz.
NBC has renewed Chicago Fire so prepare to see more LION turnout gear on TV.