Northwest suburban firefighters create custom COVID-19 testing, vaccination trailers

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A group of local firefighters pivoted when the pandemic hit to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Their Lake County business is creating custom testing and vaccination trailers for counties across the country.

Adapt and overcome: that is a motto firefighters say they live by. When COVID spiked in the U.S. the first time, a northwest suburban small business stopped making fire safety simulators and started building out mobile units for testing and eventually administering vaccines. A UV light system self-sanitizes the units.

"We're seeing a collaboration of agencies from the public health agency, to the public safety agency, to emergency management, all working together, because no one had one solution for the problem. So, they're able to work together and pool their resources to have an asset like the health incident trailer that allows them to then be able to do COVID testing and vaccination, use it as a point of distribution for PPE and other equipment, but also use it as an incident command down the road with health safety protocols," said Christopher Gantz, JHB Group CEO.

Christopher Gantz is retired from the Skokie Fire Department. Eric Schildkraut is a firefighter in Elk Grove Township. Their companies work together to produce these trailers.

"Everything is technologically advanced. We can have them tune to a radio station, have a prerecorded setting so that way when people approach they're not confused, they know where to go. We have security cameras so they can see what's going on inside and out," Eric Schildkraut, SAE Customs President, told the I-Team during a recent tour of one of the trailers.

The units run on solar power and cost between $75,000 and $100,000 dollars. One is already in use by the Catawba Indian Nation in South Carolina. Another 30 trailers in production right now will eventually go to counties across the U.S., including southern Illinois.

"Normally would take four to six weeks to basically do a unit with all the tech that we're doing. We're trying to do these in two weeks," said Gantz. "We're very proud of what we're doing because we rose to the occasion for the challenge of COVID, because let's be honest it's affected everyone in different ways, but our crew has really been able to kind of put the pride and also our experience and knowledge as firefighters into an asset that has a purpose for a long term response."
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