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RCMP Officer uses 3D printer to make PPE for first responders…

MERRITT, BC: It is often said that true innovation comes from necessity and, even during this coronavirus crisis, creativity has found a way to thrive…

The need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has never been more critical as it is today. All first responders from the medical, to ambulance, fire, and police personnel are in need of this vital equipment.

An effective mask for protection is the N95 respirator which ensures first responders are safe and prevents contamination when interacting with the public while providing essential services. Yet, with so many people using these masks, supplies have been tight.

“All first responders are facing the very real fact that they may be looking at a situation where the supply and demand cannot keep up with the need for the proper masks,” says Constable Dave Feller, a general duty officer at the Merritt RCMP Detachment.

At the detachment, some officers prefer the half face respirators because of their tight seal and, as they are made of silicone, they are reusable once sanitized. However, they require a carbon 3M cartridge filter, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the prices had skyrocketed.

Feller wanted to help his coworkers. He just happened to be an amateur inventor, so he set to work. He experimented with the design, then created and tested a cartridge using his 3D printer. He created reusable and sanitary cartridge for the rugged mask. Then, he created the filters that fit in the cartridge using anti-microbial material, like what is found in a high-quality particulate respirator mask. He found that he could make nine filters from one mask.

He brought the filters to the Merritt Detachment and the officers loved them. He began production using his three 3D printers and found that it took about two hours to make one cartridge. The cartridge is threaded so the officer could unscrew it and change the paper filter. The ability to change the filters enables a police officer to wear the mask all day.

Feller took the masks to the Kamloops and Kelowna RCMP Detachments and left with requests for more. His goal was to allow the detachments to extend the available local existing stocks.

These masks prevent contamination for officers who have no choice but to be in close proximity to those who are potentially carrying the coronavirus,
(These masks prevent contamination for officers who have no choice but to be in close proximity to those who are potentially carrying the coronavirus, says Feller.)

Soon the word of his invention spread to our partner first responders and the requests for this vital component of their PPE started piling up.

In response to COVID-19, medical professionals now are wearing a surgical mask 24/7 while at the hospital. Feller has a good friend who is a nurse who mentioned that the mask hooks behind the ears. That is fine for a few hours, but over time, the loops pull forward and cut into the ears.

“I have seen nurses use paperclips, tie ribbon, and variety of other options to fulfill a similar purpose, says Feller. “I wanted to provide them with something that was quick, convenient, and could be sanitized.”

Within a short time, Fuller designed a small simple plastic clip that hooks onto the strings of the surgical mask behind the head, effectively taking any pressure off the ears. The design is solid plastic making them easy to disinfect and continually reusable.

He dropped off the first batch of the clips at the hospital. The staff were delighted and immediately asked for more. He set up his 3D printer to produce these clips en masse. He has now delivered hundreds to the local hospitals and care homes in Merritt, Kamloops, and Kelowna, and just sent a package to Vancouver Island.

“When I spoke to the doctors and nurses at the hospital and they also mentioned that there was a shortage of face shields,” says Feller.

So Feller designed and developed a face shield using a laminated acetate sheet and plastic headbands held together with elastic material to hook behind their head. He is providing these to any first responder and healthcare worker who asks and wherever there is a need, at no cost.

While I was on duty assisting at a collision, a firefighter came up to me saying that he heard that I was making face shields, says Feller. They wanted to know how much they were and if they could put in an order.

Feller follows all the industry standards and practices for all these products and he is aware of the new provincial and federal register hubs.

Feller has refused compensation for all these inventions. He donates every item graciously. He creates these products in his limited spare time, and at his own expense. He hopes to raise some funds to purchase additional 3D printers, supplies and materials.

It wasn’t long before production on his 3D printers was running 24/7. He has recruited a couple of colleagues to produce the clips on their 3D printers. He wants to raise awareness that there are options available using 3D printers.

“I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, I can’t fight COVID-19, but at least, I want to try to protect those that do,” says Feller.

He is aware that there is a shortage of ventilators and contacted someone in Spain who has designed a ventilator on a 3D printer. Feller has asked for that design and plans to start producing ventilator components as well.

“I just want to help my fellow first responders, say Feller, by supporting and providing this vital equipment during this pandemic.”

Once the crisis is over and the need is no longer there, Feller hopes to donate the printers to the school to give the younger generation the opportunity to learn, experiment and create.

Written and released by BC RCMP.

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