No doubt, you’ve heard about the current wild fire crisis in British Columbia. With an estimated 150 fires currently burning across the province and over 14,000 residents being evacuated, its a national news story that has touched lives across the county.  When Waterloo startup, O2 Canada, heard about the hundreds of rescuers and fire fighters risking their lives and thousands of residents suffering, they hopped on a flight to deliver 250 of their air filtration masks to those who needed them most.

Although the product was not scheduled to be released until August 26th, co-founders Peter Whitby and Rich Szasz knew that the fires would result in poor air quality and their innovative technology could help those left in the wake of the tragedy. Coordinating with the Canadian Red Cross, O2 Canada rushed their first run of masks to BC – before they even had time to complete the packaging. “We knew we could make a difference, but we needed to get masks out there ASAP,” Peter recalls. “The packaging wasn’t done yet so we simply packaged them in zipper bags with a few extra filters so we could get them out there quickly.”

Due to the smoke and debris, the air quality in areas surrounding the fires is poor. The haze makes it difficult to breathe, particularity for those with asthma or other health problems. The technology in O2 Canada’s mask uses an electrostatic filter to remove the pollution so the wearer can breath the air without suffering the ill effects. “We created this company to help people. We really wanted to focus on getting masks to those who need it most. When we decided to go, we didn’t really know what that would look like, but we knew we had to be there.” Peter says.

The company is documenting their trip to BC and sharing it on Facebook with the hopes to get their message out to as many people in the province as possible. In their third episode in the series, they share their visits with helicopter pilots, firefighters, and everyday people who have seen the effects the poor air quality has on their health. One woman, cried as she shared her story. “I’m low income. I can’t afford to get a respirator, and I don’t have the resources to have my medical {insurance} cover something like that. My kids go to daycare right across the way and I have to walk them to daycare everyday. Just going across the street and back, I am having asthma attacks,” she says.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Rich says. “Meeting those kids who have to walk to school in all that pollution. When that little girl goes outside, she just coughs. It breaks my heart.”

What’s next for O2 Canada

After they return to Waterloo, their work is not done. In addition to preparing for their planned global launch, O2 has used their trip to identify the next milestone on their roadmap.  “We need to get back to work,” Rich says. ‘We need to make a kids mask and get them shipped out here.”