Gas masks and hazmat suits are flying off the shelves at survival gear companies over fears of wildfires, protests, and the coronavirus

  • Demand for gas masks, hazmat suits, and other survival gear is skyrocketing because of the coronavirus, West Coast wildfires, and nationwide protests.
  • One survival gear company owner, Roman Zrazhevskiy, reported sales 20 times higher than usual in August.
  • It's not just "doomsday preppers" who are stocking up on survival gear — "normal, everyday citizens" are seeking it out now, the owner said.
  • View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

Demand for gas masks is skyrocketing because of fears over West Coast wildfires, nationwide protests, and the coronavirus pandemic.

In August, Roman Zrazhevskiy noticed 20 times the usual sales at his survival gear company, Mira Safety, in Austin, Texas. His main customers used to be traditional "doomsday preppers" stocking up for nuclear disasters. But that has changed — now, everyday people are buying up his gas masks, hazmat suits, and even protective devices for pets.

"Initially we thought it was going to be mostly preppers who are purchasing these types of products," Zrazhevskiy told Business Insider Today. "But it turns out that the people purchasing are really just normal, everyday citizens looking to protect themselves."

For Zrazhevskiy, the path to opening a survival gear company is rooted in upbringing. He was born in the former Soviet Union three months before the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He was too young to remember that day, but it was always a topic of dinner conversations at his family's home in Moscow. 

"It always stayed with me that there must have been something more we could have done to protect ourselves in case something like this happens again," Zrazhevskiy said.

His family moved to New York City in 1992, and years later he found himself asked himself the same question when he witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks from Brooklyn.

Zrazhevskiy would go on to found Mira Safety in 2018. His products are being sold domestically and shipped overseas from his warehouses in Austin, Texas. Its website says it's the same equipment used by law enforcement agencies and the military.

By January, sales had surpassed his entire year's worth of sales from 2019, fueled by early coronavirus fears, wildfires raging on the West Coast and in Australia, and political turmoil between the US and Iran. And as the pandemic drags on, sales are only increasing for him.

"Coronavirus continues to spread, and all the civil unrest we've been seeing across the country," he said. "So we see our business growing, and we're just stocking up on as much product as possible to prepare for that."

Masks have long been used as a protection for diseases and in times of turmoil. World War I soldiers used respirators to protect against new chemical agents. And in 1938. Fears of another war drove the British government to distribute millions of masks to civilians. They were also seen on the streets during the political upheaval of the 1960s. 

Now, the industry is finally approaching the mainstream. The global gas-mask market is poised to grow by $10 billion by 2024, according to the market research company Technavio. 

The survival gear gives peace of mind to customers like Don Tamasco, who recently spent $2,000 on Zrazhevskiy's products.

"I would always protect my family," he said. "It's nice to know that we're protected for the future, because there's no telling what could happen."

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