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Made in Spring City: SSM Industries

By: Latricia Thomas 

When firefighters rush into a burning building, or members of the US military face a heated battle, the clothes on their backs can be their last line of defense. That's why a Rhea County company takes pride in their products, whether they're being used in the fight overseas, or on the racetrack on Sundays.

Outside these walls, more than 11 percent of Rhea County's residents are out of work. But inside SSM Industries in Spring City, the work and the number of hands spinning, loading and weaving are growing. "We make protective fabrics to protect the military, firefighters, utility workers and automotive racers," President and CEO Scott Hilleary says. "People who put themselves in harms way for a living."

In their new spinning division, the raw fiber in bushels, on this day it's fire-resistant Kevlar is separated with air, and then smoothed back together. "It actually orients the fiber, and combs the fiber, and then spits it out in rope form," Hilleary says.

The rope is spun several more times, before another group of machines twist and compress it down into yarn. Everything has to be spun in exactly the same way or a weak spot could cause a defect in the fabric.

It's the strength of this locally made yarn that makes their fabric unique, resistant to fire and heat and, in some cases metal, too. It's woven into the outer-shells worn by NASCAR drivers. Hilleary says, "If you watch the races on Sunday, there's a really good chance you'll see our products on the backs of the drivers." SSM's fabric is also used in military protective gear and fighter pilot gloves. "If you see a military pilot in the cockpit giving a thumbs up," says Hilleary, "that fabric was made in Spring City."

Carolyn Lee is one of SSM's 105 employees. Since high school, she's manned the knitting machines. Lee says all of the company's employees are proud to be making material that can save lives.

Finally, the fabric is dyed, finished,  packaged and even fire-tested before it's shipped to vendors, ready to craft those life-saving products. "During war time, you should see the effort that people here will put out," Hilleary says. "It's a rush to war. It makes you feel good because we're protecting people that protect us."

SSM Industries is now developing a new type of undergarment for the US military to help protect soldiers groins during IED blasts on the battlefield.

For more information on SSM Industries, visit their website.Made in Spring City: SSM Industries

Saturday, August 3 2013, 05:34 PM EDT

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