“When I walked into the emergency room, the doctors and nurses were surprised because they were told an officer was shot in the head. Imagine their surprise when the officer walked in because of the Kevlar® in his helmet.”
That’s Cincinnati police officer Daniel Kowalski, telling his story of one night on duty in December 2009.
“I was part of the SWAT team…making entry into an apartment for a homicide suspect. The suspect fired two shots from a 9mm handgun…If I had not worn the helmet that was made with Kevlar®, I would have had two 9mm rounds in the right side of my head just above my right ear.”
“I should be six feet under and not writing this story. My life was saved by Kevlar®… I am around today to watch my four daughters grow up and live life.”
And THIS story, is the story of how a lab accident led to that miracle.
Stephanie Kwolek was a chemist working for DuPont. Her project in 1965, was to come up with “something” to make tougher tires. A fiber strong enough to replace the steel wires that were used back then.
One day in the lab, like many other days in the lab, she was dissolving polymers (plastics, from petrochemicals) in a solvent, looking for that “something” — when something happened. Instead of getting thicker and thicker, which was the usual outcome, this solution got thinner and more watery.
Kwolek knew she had something out of the ordinary, but she had to talk one of her colleagues into finding out just what – by putting that solution in a “spinneret” (which spins liquid polymers into fibers).
“We spun it, and it spun beautifully,” Kwolek said. “It was very strong and very stiff, unlike anything we had ever made before.”
So tough, it was five times stronger than steel, pound for pound. So tough, that DuPont had to get a new machine to test how strong it was. And so tough, that since it’s been used to make body armor, it’s saved the lives of thousands of police officers.
Like the life of David Spicer.
“Police officer David Spicer was wearing a Kevlar® vest when he was shot by a drug suspect in 2001…Spicer took four .45-caliber slugs to the chest and arms at point-blank range and lived to tell about it.”
“The last one hit his nametag, bending it into a horseshoe shape, before burrowing into his vest, leaving a 10-inch tear. ‘If that round would have entered my body, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,’ the Dover police officer said.
“While recovering from his wounds, Spicer spoke briefly by phone with Ms. Kwolek and thanked her. ‘She was a tremendous woman,’ he said.”