The black glove on Bob Goulet’s hand looks so loosely knit that a cold wind would quickly numb his skin and fingers if he were shoveling snow. Maybe so, but Goulet isn’t wearing this glove to test its wind-chill properties.
Nope. The chief operating officer for Chapman Innovations is indoors in the “Law Enforcement & Tactical Gear” aisles at the 2008 SHOT Trade Show preparing for a demo. When all eyes are on him, he ignites a butane torch, centers his gloved hand in the hissing flame, and then calmly explains why CarbonX yarns and fabrics provide the world’s best protection against heat and fire. After making his point, he shuts off the flame, removes the still-intact glove, and extends his unharmed hand and warm glove for inspection.
When putting the competition’s fabrics to the torch, Goulet doesn’t risk his hide. Instead, he watches them wither, ignite—and fall apart when subsequently handled. Fire-resistant standbys like Nomex, introduced by DuPont in 1963, fail Goulet’s demo, as well as one performed in 2003 for Forbes Magazine by Tyler Thatcher, president/CEO of Chapman Innovations. While holding a penny in his palm atop a CarbonX cloth, Thatcher used a torch to heat the penny until it began melting. He then flipped the melted copper onto a piece of Nomex. The old industry standard shrunk, charred and smoked.
The lessons are clear: If you’re fighting a fire or entering a hot zone where bomb blasts and searing flames make bullets the lesser evil, you want what he’s wearing.
Origins of CarbonX
CarbonX was created by Michael Chapman. Chapman is the owner of Chapman Racing Heads. CarbonX was originally created in the late 1990s to protect racecar drivers. Its magic is a fiber named Oxidized Polycrynlonitrile, but its friends just call it O-PAN. When exposed to heat up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, O-PAN fibers char from the outside in and expand far beyond their original size to force fire-sustaining oxygen away from the fabric. Chapman knew of O-PAN from its use in aircraft brakes. After seeing friends and colleagues scarred or killed in fiery crashes, he set out to use it in protective clothing. However, O-PAN by itself is too flimsy to weave into clothing, so Chapman hired an engineer to find fabrics, including Kevlar, to strengthen it.
By 2000, he was selling CarbonX fabric to clothing manufacturers for industrial safety clothes and racing suits. As CarbonX went into protective shoes, helmets, gloves, knee pads and other safety gear, Chapman gathered testimonials from drivers, firefighters and steelworkers who owed their lives to the fabric. Sarah Dean, the wife of steelworker Donny Dean, told how molten steel destroyed her husband’s fire-retardant cotton jacket and pants but couldn’t penetrate his CarbonX hood and long underwear. Racecar drivers like Larry Dixon and Mark Kinser agree with Jeffrey Klaver of Ford Racing Technology, who said “CarbonX is simply the most amazing material I have ever seen. It was hard to believe it could offer that much protection against heat and flame until I tried it myself. CarbonX has the potential to prevent countless deaths and burn injuries. The possibilities are limitless.”
One of the more colorful endorsements came from Brian Miser, who sets himself afire and gets shot from a cannon for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He told Forbes: “The Nomex suit lasted one jump. I couldn’t wear it again. The CarbonX suits last 100 jumps.”
Future Troop’s Lifesaver
By the end of 2007, Chapman Innovations had contracts with 14 athletic, motorsports, protective apparel, industrial-wear and other manufacturers to weave CarbonX into an array of protective gear. The list includes everything from socks to barrel sleeves for rapid-fire weapons. Because the fabric is soft and breathable, growing numbers of military personnel demand CarbonX for their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although CarbonX didn’t have a prime government contract for gloves as of early February 2008, Goulet said commands in all four military branches buy CarbonX gloves in large quantities. Whether it’s flight-deck crews on aircraft carriers, or soldiers and Marines picking through embers in smoldering combat zones, they increasingly wear CarbonX gloves from companies like Mechanix Wear.
The reasons are obvious: “We have a lot of soldiers and Marines in hospitals because they got overconfident with gloves they thought were fire-resistant,” Goulet said. “They stuck their hand into something and got the crap burned out of it. The fabric shrunk and burned into their hand. It got so tight they couldn’t get it off in time. The development director at Mechanix Wear called just the other day to say he got an order for another couple-thousand pairs to ship directly to Iraq.”
Goulet said Special Forces units snap up CarbonX gloves, protective hoods and base-layer underwear, and don the hoods when anticipating fires or electrical arcs. He said SpecOps commanders are also buying CarbonX long underwear for their troops, to prevent brutal burns that result when flames destroy the nylon shells holding body-armor plates.
“When that carrier nylon burns, a body-armor jacket can go up like a dry tree. “Those guys feel like baked potatoes. They’re wearing all this stuff to stop bullets, but if they get into a fire, they burn up. Their choice is to take off the armor and get shot, or keep it on and risk severe burns. CarbonX long underwear is a good option in cool weather, but guys don’t like wearing it in hot weather. The best option is making a CarbonX carrier for body armor, which we’re exploring.”
Goulet believes CarbonX’s applications are nearly infinite for police, military and emergency personnel. “Companies like Oakley make racing gloves and shoes lined with CarbonX, and Mechanix Wear makes gloves and kneepads, so we expect to see it in combat boots, combat helmets, balaclavas and anything else that could prevent crippling burns,” he said. “For instance, it’s now in use as barrel sleeves for rapid-fire weapons. The CarbonX sleeve allows soldiers to exchange one barrel for another without burning their hands, and to protect others who might touch the hot barrel while it cools.” For more info contact, Chapman, 801-415-0025; carbonex.com.