Former Firefighter Is a Local Inventor

In 2014, NYC firefighter John Hartel created “My Transit Strap” to be used as a personal strap to avoid touching transit poles. (Photo: My Transit Strap, Facebook)

WINDSOR TERRACE — More than a decade ago in 2009, a new H1N1 influenza virus emerged, causing the first global flu pandemic in 40 years. It was during the following 15-month-long period that the public became more conscientious and exercised extra health and safety precautions.

In 2010, then-firefighter John Hartel, who attended Mass at St. Mel’s and Sacred Heart in Bayside, created his own automatic holy water dispenser. The idea, he told various media outlets at the time, came about eight years earlier when he was talking to a colleague about dipping their hands into the holy water fonts and shaking hands during the sign of peace at Mass.

[Related: Holy Water Fonts Adapt to Pandemic Times]

Hartel went to a lawyer to develop a patent and built a prototype that was originally in the shape of a cross. The goal of the prototype, he told IrishCentral in July 2010, was to provide one milliliter of water per person, allowing each cross to serve up to 350 parishioners.

Hartel applied for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in June 2010, but the project was later abandoned.

However, during the same year of the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, Hartel launched a Kickstarter campaign for his latest invention. It was a personal nylon strap and giant hook that public transit riders could hold and use in order to avoid touching transit poles with their bare hands.

The now-retired firefighter said this product is more affordable to make, compared to the automatic holy water dispenser — though it is still a financial hit. Hartel added that he hopes to relaunch and advertise the product again soon, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.