Lompoc's police officers will have a bit of added protection as they continue to perform their duties amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the efforts of the city’s largest private employer.

DenMat, a company that normally specializes in manufacturing dental products, recently used its labs and equipment to produce dozens of bottles of hand sanitizer.

The first batch of the sanitizer was donated Monday to the Lompoc Police Department, which has since placed 18 bottles at key work stations in the department’s headquarters and in each of its marked police vehicles to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

DenMat CEO David Casper said Wednesday that the inspiration for the donation was borne out of an impromptu conversation he had with Lompoc Police Chief Joe Mariani a few weeks ago at a Lompoc grocery store.

“I was in Albertsons and I get a tap on my shoulder and it was [Mariani],” Casper said. “We were just standing off to the side marveling at how many people were buying toilet paper and whatnot. … He made a comment about how his cops couldn't stay at home — they have to still work and patrol the city and interface with everyone and they were struggling with just getting the basic supplies.”

One of the supplies specifically mentioned by Mariani was hand sanitizer. A few days after that conversation, Casper said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency directive to allow medical device manufacturers, such as DenMat, to get express approval to make hand sanitizer, as long as it was developed according to guidelines.

“So we looked into it and it turned out we already had all the ingredients and the equipment needed to make this product,” Casper said. “It was just natural for us to donate the first few boxes to the Police Department, given Joe's comment that guys are still working and have to go out while everyone else is staying at home.”

Casper said the company plans to continue making sanitizer, provided that it can obtain the needed ingredients. He noted that isopropyl alcohol, the main ingredient, has become a high-demand item and has seen its monetary value skyrocket.

Casper said that Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne helped put him in touch with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office to help find raw materials to continue producing the sanitizer. Assuming that more is made, Casper said the company will look to make future donations to the Lompoc Fire Department and other local first responders.

He said the company hopes to also make similar donations to first responders in Santa Maria, since many DenMat employees live in that city.

The Lompoc Police Department issued a statement Wednesday morning commending DenMat for “stepping up” to support the community.

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“The Lompoc Police Department would like to thank DenMat for their generous contribution to our staff, and their safety, through this difficult and uncharted time,” read a portion of that statement.

Casper said he was proud to be able to help the surrounding community, but he acknowledged that the sanitizer donations could also prove beneficial to DenMat, which has furloughed most of its employees over the past 10 days as dental offices around the world have mostly closed or significantly cut back on operations.

“When this blows over, and everyone expects it to blow over at some point, we need all of our employees to come back to work, otherwise we don't have a company,” he said. “So my view is if we can help keep people safe and healthy, then that's doing the right thing for them, but it's also frankly doing the right thing for our company, so we have a workforce to come back to us.”

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.