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Devastating Garage Fire Story and Killer Tacoma Build For A Cause

In this episode of FireTalk we interview Brian King, founder of Vox United, a non-profit that works to bring clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene behaviors to Africa. We chat with Brian about growing up in a family of car fanatics; the dramatic garage fire that changed his life; the inspiration for his non-profit, and his awesome new Tacoma build, the Hersch X. He has some incredible stories and we are honored he shared them with us!



Teresa:
Hi everyone, welcome to Firetalk today I am talking with Brian King. Thank you Brian so much for joining us. How are you doing?

Brian:
I'm doing fantastic thanks.

Teresa:
Tell us a little bit about yourself, what got you into doing these builds with cars and trucks, where you're from.

Brian:
I hail from West Michigan. I live just on the South side of Grand Haven. If I if you do the the Michigan mitten thing I live right here next to Lake MI. And I was born and raised in a town called Holland, just a little bit further South. So I come from a Dutch heritage. Strong work ethic, determination, vision. Get it done kind of mentality and a lot of what we did centered around the automobile industry, building and customizing cars. My dad is a huge car guy, drag race, built cars, my grandfather the same so I had no choice, I was born with gasoline in my veins. So when it came to conversation more than not, it centered around the latest and greatest coming off the line in Detroit.

Teresa:
Do you remember what your first project was?

Brian:
Yeah for sure. You know I grew up around all kinds of different builds. My grandfather was a huge Mustang guy, so at one point he had like 18 different Mustangs, a Shelby, California cougar, you name it. We were always tinkering around with those cars. My dad was a Fairlane guy and so there's always something in the garage, something coming through, coming and going.
 

But my first project with my dad was a 1969 Fairlane that we had found. He spotted this thing after coming home from work one afternoon and said “Brian you gotta come check this out!” And next thing you know I was down at the bank and we're paying this guy and driving it home. So for about six months together we tore that thing down and rebuilt the engine, rebuilt the the quarter panels on the back and some of the interior. It looked pretty smooth when it was finished and we had a great time doing it.  

You know, cars for me are nothing more than an excuse to spend time together, and that's really what the deal was there. It's fun to talk about, cars are fun to drive, they're a blast to race, but at the end of the day, it's about family. It's about people, and to be able to have those opportunities with my grandfather and my dad, I'll cherish forever.


So it was a 1969 Fairlane and that thing got me in a lot of trouble. I eventually, you know, was one ticket after another and next thing I know I was in driving school and I'd lost my license. Actually, my wife, I've been married to now 29 years gonna be 30 this year, we dated for seven years. I met her in high school and when we first met I couldn't drive so she drove my car. She took the wheel and wherever he went she drove us around. But that was the first initial build and man it was a blast. Good times!

Teresa:
Have you ever had a fire? Experienced one? Had to put one out? Do you have any sort of stories around that?

Brian:
I really appreciate that question. When I was 21, I'm studying and I got a phone call from one of my good buddies. It was a November evening just after Thanksgiving and he said “Listen, you need to come home.” I lived about 2 hours away from from a home at that point and he said “your brother's been burned really bad.” And at first, I thought you know, OK, maybe he burned his hand or his leg or something like that. But then, as he continued to impact the conversation he said “No, you need to understand.” He said “something happened in the garage and the garage exploded. And he ran out of the garage and your mom saw him through the the breezeway, and he's wearing a trench coat. And that thing went up like that.” They ended up flying them to one of the big hospitals up in Grand Rapids, where he spent the next year recovering.  

It was one of those situations where life turned on a dime. He was a 3-sport athlete. He had a beautiful girlfriend at the time. The fire changed his life. 95% of his body was burned, he had over 20 surgeries. My brother eventually came through, but the fire took his ability to walk, some of his thinking capacities, some of his motor skills and he ended up in a wheelchair and he's in a wheelchair to this to this day.

So, fire has been something that I've learned to respect. It can take your life quickly. I've taught my boys, I've got 2 sons, and I paid special attention to how they approach situations with fire, and helping them understand how powerful it can become and how it can change your life.

So, when it came time to talk about fire safety, I wanted to make sure that we had the right kind of equipment that could do the job. But you want to make sure that as you're thinking about some of the things you've got the best on the market. So yeah for for me it's personal, it really is, and so I just want to make sure that as we move forward that we've got the right gear to to make sure that we're safe and on par as we're moving forward.  

Teresa:
Well, thank you for sharing that! I can imagine that changed your life, your whole families life. And it’s one thing we do talk about with people. Hopefully you never have to use it, but it's something you don't want to need and not have it.

In reality it's one of those things you don't think is going to happen to you, and then when it does, it can be a range of not great to terribly bad and you just don't want to be in that situation if you can help it.

Brian:
You got it. I appreciate the fact that you do that and that's the thing it's the extinguisher is a tool, but I mean, I think the education component is really important.

Teresa:
And we appreciate people like you talking to us. The whole point of the FireTalk is to actually put it in perspective with real stories, real life applications so people can understand it for themselves in their lives better.

So, a little bit of shameless product plug here, but you have our extinguishers behind you. What made you reach out to us for your fire extinguishers?

Brian:
Absolutely, so let me press rewind for a moment. OK? So, I give direction to an organization called Vox and it's a specialized water development agency, we do work primarily in Sub Saharan Africa. Anyhow, back in 2008, I was on a bucket list Safari up in northern Mozambique, came down with dysentery, drank some of the water over there. The short the short story is that it put me in a clinic, they gave me the wrong medication and it almost took my life. So, in the process of recovering from that situation, I found out that 37% of kids were dying from waterborne illnesses in that region. When I got back to the states, I sat down with some of my friends who have construction firms and I said “Listen guys with our work ethic and our ability to get stuff done, we can kick a dent in this thing. So what do you think?” So we put our hands in the center, we started a nonprofit, and for the past 12 years we've been working to get people sustainable, clean drinking water. We’ve been able to benefit over a million and a half people with clean water.


So my father passed away last year from a lung disease. And when was diagnosed I said him “Dad, what do you think about doing one last build? One last hot rod or something? Yeah, let's do it!” Unfortunately, the disease went through him a lot faster than what we anticipated, and we never got around to it. So when he had passed I said to my wife “Laura, I need to do that that last build. I need to do it in such a way that it's an homage to my dad. His love for cars and his love for people.” And so the thinking was, rather than building a hot rod, or a Fairlane, or a Mustang, I run Land Cruisers and Hiluxes and different four by fours in Africa to do our work. I thought if I can build a truck here in the states, that would mirror one of the trucks that we use in Africa and use it to share the story, and maybe even raise a few nickels that that would be something that I'd like to put my shoulder into.

So I got with my cousin Jason Hulst, who's got Hulst Customs in in Grants Pass, OR. He and his team build SEMA trucks for Ford. So I said here's the thinking, what do you think, Jay? He said “Let's do it!  I'll help you build this thing.” And so we started designing this truck and he put his spin on it and we started talking to different companies in the industry and they fell in love with the idea and said “Hey listen, we love to throw our product on there like to put our bumpers on there.” I talked to Mike Dennison over at Fox and he said “Listen, we'd love to help you with some fox shocks.” And they put the best of their shocks on the truck. Then the ball just started rolling! The commitment was if we're going to do this we want to make sure that we have the best truck and we put the best product on the truck.


So we took the truck to SEMA. SEMA heard what we're doing and said “We'd love to feature your truck come on out, you can do it on our dime.” So we brought the truck out to Vegas. We live here in West Michigan. We showed it and we shared our story. Had the opportunity to tell people what we're doing and the fact that we're using this truck to raise $1,000,000 and we're going to give it all back, that's what we're going to do. I mean, I don't need another truck to be honest. I just I don't, but if I can purchase a truck and work with a bunch of really cool high end organizations that care and use this as a way a mechanism so to speak, to help a lot of people than game on right!


At SEMA we shared the story and got a lot of people excited about what we're doing. We launched a campaign called the 4XFor challenge. That's four. The number 4 by FOR. So we 4 by For clean drinking water. What are you 4 by For right? And if you're interested you can learn more about it at HerschX.com.


My wife and I are going to take the truck and we're going to ship it to the UK next year, and we're going to drive it down Europe and then through the continent of Africa, where it's going to culminate in clean water project in in Mozambique. And our whole intention here is to bring more exposure to the need and do something about it.

So to bring this back around. When it came time to think about fire safety, it was right in line with everything else that we've been doing with the truck. We want nothing but the best. And so when we started exploring, you know who out there is the best, one of the things that caught my eye, especially at SEMA, was H3R and some of the stuff that I'd seen on other trucks and some of the vehicles over there. And I just thought you know what I'm going to take a look at what's going on there. And as I started doing the research, it was like this is a no brainer, this company is amazing. And just hearing about the energy that you put into testing, the standards. I love the fact that this product is tested in 175 degree temperature for seven days. I read about that and you see, we're traveling through the Sahara desert, right? And that's a really big deal. I want to make sure that that things stay preserved and we're going to be in good shape. I love the fact that there's a clean agent that you can use. If something goes down, you've invested all this time and energy and money into a really cool ride, and if something goes wrong you don't want to use a product that's going to create more damage. I just thought you know tick there's another box. The fact that it looks wicked cool. The aesthetic is amazing for me. I mean the black is cool. The red is cool. But the Chrome is just, it's cherry, and to drop that in the truck, right? Not do I have a product that I know is going to perform well, it gives me the confidence that if something goes awry I'm good to go. But when people look at the truck, when I look at the truck, knowing my dad was a guy that was all about the details, he would love this product. So that's why I thought “I got to reach out to these guys. I got to reach out to H3R and just see if they'd be interested in your journey with us.” And sure enough after hearing this story, you guys said “Listen, we love what you're doing and want to partner with you.” Super excited to install these extinguishers and with the new Pro release what is it called?

Teresa:
ProLock, yeah, we're just a couple days away from releasing it.

Brian:
OK. Yeah, I've seen pictures. It looked it looks amazing so I'm really excited to be one of the first to be able to install the Pro Lock.  I'm super jazzed about that. So it's a huge honor for me to be honest with you. It just makes complete sense all the way across the axis in regards to why we'd want to work with you guys.

Just to be honest, the product is cool but the process has been right on par as well, and to work with you guys, your customer service, the way you treat people. Just thumbs up across the board so thanks a ton. I really mean that so thanks for the way that you approach your business, the way that you approach people and I'm looking forward to sharing about not only the product but the people who work at H3R.

Teresa:
We couldn't be happier to hear that! Our founder, Steven Berg, who passed away a number of years ago, his whole thing was all about relationships. Most important thing in business number one rule is developing relationships. It's a perfect fit. How you brought together all your different passions and then to honor your dad, it’s totally in line with all of our values and what's important to us. So yeah, we're equally honored and excited to follow you on your journey.

Brian:
But now we have to work at adding some of the other components that will allow us to live on the road in Africa for three months. So, we'll keep you posted on that and how things are going there. But we're definitely looking forward to it, so we'll get some stuff done here this spring, and we're going to start traveling to different events, overland Expo, and so forth. I'm getting the truck tweaked, sharing our story, and then this time next year our plan is to ship it to the UK, yeah.

Teresa:
Excellent, I'm sure everyone will be super excited to follow that adventure, and again thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it. This has been great and I know it will be of value to a lot of people, and we're excited to share your story with all our followers. You have a great rest of your week!

Brian:
Alright, you too bye bye.

Teresa:
Bye bye.

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