A collaborative effort borne out of the shortage of N-95 respirators has led to development of a disinfection box to help the Gering Volunteer Fire Department extend their supply of the protective masks.
Following release of a University of Nebraska Medical Center document a few weeks ago outlining how the use of Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation could disinfect N-95 masks to allow them to be reused, GVFD starting looking into the the process and reached out to several local agencies to determine the possibility of having this type of resource locally.
Fire Chief Nathan Flowers tells KNEB News he didn’t know where to begin, so he reached out to Gering High Engineering Program instructor Justin Reinmuth, who told him the process appeared fairly straight-forward. They then reached out to Rick Derr at Action Communications and Randy Meininger with Valley Ambulance, who advised the UV light needed for a disinfection cabinet was a special light, which was out of stock locally or on Amazon.
Flowers says Reinmuth and Derr then reached out to Mike Beebe at Big Mac HVAC, who was able to find a two of the needed lights, which were purchased and donated by Action and Big Mac. The group collectively contacted Johnson Cashway Lumber Company, which donated the material for a cabinet built by Reinmuth, and Beebe installed the lights and the box covering.
Flowers says the data indicated between seven to ten disinfections, as each cycle degrades the quality of the material, so GVFD is playing it safe with only four or five uses of a mask, depending on the potential of virus exposure. “Through policies and procedures, we can determine a high-risk, moderate-risk or low-risk exposure, and instead of having to disposed of those masks on a low-risk exposure, we can still bring them back to the station and decontaminate them through this process,” says Flowers.
Disinfection of the masks takes about 30 minutes in the cabinet, which can hold only two masks at a time.
Flowers says it’s a huge impact for the agency, and the department has been spreading the word across the state through the Chiefs Association, Mutual Aid Association and locally with area agencies. “Mike Beebe at Big Mac was able to get more lights, so we’re in the process of building more sterilization boxes we can share with other agencies so we can de-con as many masks as we possibly can locally.”
Although he wishes the first sterilization box was bigger to allow disinfection of more masks at one time, the cabinets and the information on how to make them will prove invaluable in the fight against the novel coronavirus. “It’s a need here, we’re trying to reduce our risk just like everybody else,” says Flowers, “I’m hoping we can share this information, get these boxes out into our other agencies and get through this crisis like everybody wants to.”