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FASTEnER Lab works with Shepherdstown Fire Department to design ambulance protective canopy

ISSUED: 20 May 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University’s Fine Arts, Science, Technology, Engineering, Educational Resource (FASTEnER) lab is collaborating with the Shepherdstown Fire Department to create a protective canopy system that can be installed on ambulance gurneys to provide protection from patients who potentially have COVID-19.

“The problem we were running into is that it takes longer now to decontaminate the ambulance,” said Craig Horn, captain of compliance and education, Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency. “We wanted to come up with a way to contain contamination so we could get the ambulance back in service faster and also safeguard the paramedics and EMTs.”

Members of the fire department began by designing a tent structure with braces on it and turned to Shepherd’s Kay Dartt, FASTEnER lab manager, to refine the design and make it simpler and safer. The fire department tested three prototypes before settling on the current design.

“What I’ve made are some 3-D printed parts and used PVC pipe that is all collapsible,” Dartt said. “The system can fit in an ambulance, and paramedics and EMTs can easily construct it on the gurney, similar to putting up tent poles.”

The device consists of connectors that Velcro to the frame of the gurney that EMS personnel can slide two poles made of PVC pipe into. The pipes bend around the head of the patient and hold a clear, disposable plastic bag.

“We wanted something that we could store when it’s not in use, that didn’t take up a lot of space, is very easy to clean, and is practical and economical,” Horn said. “We also wanted to be able to dispose of certain parts, so using a clear plastic bag that is inexpensive and can be thrown away works well.”

“When you have an infectious patient in the back of the ambulance, that person will make the entire ambulance contaminated, so we were looking for a method in which we can isolate that contamination to the cot,” said Marshall DeMeritt, EMS chief, Shepherdstown Fire Department. “This type of hood system provides the ability to keep the aerosols from getting all over the ambulance. While we will still clean the ambulance after every call, we don’t have as much risk of it being in every nook and cranny.”

Horn said Jefferson County is working out protocols to determine which patients they will use the canopies with. EMTs and paramedics will still wear PPE, but this device offers added protection.

Dr. Marney Treese, chair and medical director, Jefferson Medical Center Emergency Department, said there is an advantage to being able to make the canopies locally rather than purchasing them commercially.

“Having the ability to make more canopies rather than having to depend on the very unstable market for PPE right now is a huge benefit,” Treese said. “I am impressed with the engineering and manufacturing provided by the FASTEnER lab in the creation of these canopies. The community support demonstrated in this collaboration between Shepherd University and Shepherdstown Fired Department is amazing. I want to thank Shepherd University and Kay Dartt for helping protect our Jefferson County EMS.”

Horn said all 13 ambulance units in the county will carry the device, and the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency hopes some mutual aid departments such as Sharpsburg, Maryland, will agree to use them. He said the canopies will be useful beyond the COVID-19 pandemic because they can contain everything from any infectious disease to bed bug infestations.

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