CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Where most fire departments see trash, one Cascade Township fireman sees opportunity.
Lance Korhorn noticed his own department would throw away used fire hoses after they failed yearly pressure tests.
“I thought there was something maybe else we can do with that,” Korhorn said. “So (I) took some out of the trash and started experimenting,”
He admits that he got strange looks from his fellow firefighters at first, but their puzzlement was put to ease when they saw what he had created. Belts, wallets, coasters, even door mats and dog collars — all of it handmade from recycled material.
“All of the material would have gone to a landfill otherwise,” Korhorn said. “We’re taking something, upcycling it and making something that people can wear and tell a great story about the items past.”
After collecting equipment from large fire departments in New York, Chicago and St. Louis, Korhorn ran out of space, so he rented a warehouse that’s now filled floor to ceiling. A portion of every sale goes back to the department from which the used equipment came.
“We had the idea to do something good with the material — not only make use of the product, but pay it forward as well,” Korhorn said.
After finding success making products from large departments, he decided to highlight local, smaller, departments in Michigan. The first local department to benefit from Korhorn’s ingenuity is Leighton Township. Fire Chief Matt Weston says his department was honored to participate.
“To be the first local station to be part of this, it is very cool. Our guys are very excited to get their hands on some of the products,” Weston said. “Supporting your local fire house is important, and this makes it all the better if you can have a nice piece of clothing or a mat or a coaster that you can look at and think of the department you’re supporting.”
Korhorn said he got the idea for his company, Ladder 34, from his dad Dean, who was a firefighter as well.
“My dad’s number was 34 when I was growing up on the fire department and he retired about the same time I started and I took his number 34,” Korhorn said. “It’s awesome to have him help me out every day with the business.”
Everything is done in one large warehouse room. Fire hoses are cut up and repurposed on tables. Racks of fire hose tower behind Korhorn and his dad while they work to fulfill online orders in boxes.
“It’s amazing to me to see how his idea has grown into something this big already,” Dean Korhorn said. “I am one proud papa. He has followed in my footsteps for sure.”
His number and a brand stand for something larger than the bond between him and his son.
“It’s kind of come full circle for me,” Lance Korhorn said. “I hope our company really takes off, but it’s always been a focus for me on doing something that matters. Focus on helping in a way that you truly can feel the impact of what you’re doing as a whole rather than trying to search for a monetary value from it.”