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Printing protection for Suffolk first responders

Suffolk Fire and Rescue and Suffolk Police are asking for assistance with much-need personal protective equipment.

First responders in Suffolk are asking the community to donate unused PPE items, due to the increasing demand and nationwide shortage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

They were recently assisted by the resourceful Suffolk Public Library staff and the library’s 3D printer. Capt. Ray Willet with the EMS Bureau of Suffolk Fire and Rescue first reached out to Suffolk Public Library Director Clint Rudy on March 26, with the idea of 3D-printing face shields for Suffolk’s first responders.

“I had seen samples going around Twitter for other agencies and hospitals and recognized the need for us,” Willet wrote in an email. “I then recalled seeing an article or some sort of advertising that the libraries had 3D printers for patrons to use.

“As with everyone around the country, the supply chain for PPE has slowed down dramatically, and we are all competing for the same resources,” he continued. “Bringing the production ‘in house’ would definitely help with our needs.”

Willet was connected with Kendra Hawkins, the library’s technology and content strategy manager. Hawkins and her team were able to download the necessary files and print out several PPE items.

According to Willet, the library printed the headband and the bottom of the shield. Willet was able to source the face shield by using laminator sheets, and also the strap by using Velcro.

The test was successful, and the library is currently able to print four face shield headbands at a time, in a span of about eight and a half hours, Rudy wrote in an email Wednesday.

“The 3D printers have been used by library staff at various classes and events to demonstrate the technology and help the community learn more about 3D printers as part of the ‘maker movement,’” Rudy wrote. “This was a great opportunity to use them to provide much needed materials to our first responders.”

Willet said he picked up the parts for 22 masks on Thursday, and Suffolk Fire and Rescue personnel will be assembling the masks and begin distributing them to department personnel for use in the field, according to a Thursday city press release.

The city press release states that the goal is to create 200 face shields to get ahead of “usage demands.”

“I’m thankful that Clint and Kendra were able to step up and help us out with this idea,” Willet states in the press release. “I had no expectation with my initial request. However, since I’ve been communicating with them, Clint has told me that they are now purchasing more printers to use for this project in order to ramp up production.”

The press release states that the safety of patients and Suffolk Fire and Rescue personnel are both being “closely monitored and addressed,” and that the “vital importance of PPE can’t be overstated.”

“Patients are being provided surgical masks for their use during their assessment and transport by Fire and Rescue staff, the press release states. “Where possible, patients are being asked to exit their homes and be interviewed outside the residence if they are able to do so. Based on responses to the health evaluation questions, Fire and Rescue personnel may increase their level of PPE to include a gown, gloves and eye protection, such as the face shields.

“These are standard precautions that are being used nationwide by Fire and EMS agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlight the need for increased PPE supplies.”

Individuals and local businesses in the Suffolk community are encouraged to donated unused PPE to support Suffolk’s first responders in their COVID-19 pandemic response. Donations of any quantity of the following items are encouraged, preferably commercial-grade and in original packaging:

  • N95 masks in large, medium and universal sizes
  • Nitrile exam gloves in extra-large, large, medium and small sizes
  • Eye protection such as safety glasses and goggles
  • Surgical masks with or without fluid shield protection/face shields
  • Protective surgical gowns
  • Hand sanitizer, unopened, gel and wipes

Donations will be shared between Suffolk Fire and Rescue and Suffolk Police, and may be dropped off by appointment only at Suffolk Fire and Rescue Station 6, 300 Kings Fork Road. The point of contact is Capt. Leon Ratliff, who can be reached by phone at 514-4544.