Potsdam Volunteer Rescue Squad receives NYS EMS Award for innovations in clinical delivery

Two Clarkson professors rewarded for their innovations

An UV-C exposure box built by Professors Doug Bohl and Christopher Towler to disinfect reusable N95 respirators used by first responders from the Potsdam Volunteer Rescue Squad.

The Potsdam Volunteer Rescue Squad (PVRS) received the 2021 New York State Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Systems EMS Innovation Award for Clinical Delivery Innovations for the UV decontamination systems and procedures they developed at the start of the pandemic of COVID-19. Clarkson University professors Doug Bohl and Chris Towler, who are members of the Rescue Squad, led efforts to develop two systems that helped PVRS during the pandemic.

The award quote noted that “the pandemic has highlighted the need for pre-hospital providers to use appropriate protective measures to protect themselves and their patients from communicable diseases. This has resulted in a greater emphasis on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the proper decontamination of equipment, including ambulances. It was clear at the start of the pandemic that tackling PPE shortages to expand scarce supplies would require creativity and innovation. This was especially true for disposable N95 respirators, which were in high demand in pre-hospital and hospital settings. Considerable effort and research has gone into the medical, scientific and technical communities to investigate methods for the safe and effective decontamination of single-use N95s. However, most of these methods were expensive, complicated, or inappropriate for use in prehospital EMS agencies, especially small departments with limited financial resources and purchasing power. There was an immediate need for proper N95 decontamination.

The second need arising from the COVID-19 pandemic was to find methods to effectively decontaminate equipment, including ambulance boxes. While decontamination using manual wiping / cleaning with appropriate solutions effectively cleans and disinfects the majority of surfaces, secondary methods of ensuring decontamination of all surfaces in an ambulance box have become important to ensure patient safety and of the provider. Commercial systems did exist, however, they were also expensive and had long delivery times in the spring and summer of 2020.

Doug and Chris developed two different UVC systems that were inexpensive (under $ 350) and easy to build by someone with basic household electrical wiring skills. Both use parts that can be easily purchased at local hardware stores and from online suppliers. Both systems were built, tested and used extensively at the Potsdam Volunteer Rescue Squad. This extended the limited supply of N95 from PVRS. As a result, no supplier has had to do without an N95 or reuse a respirator known to be contaminated.

Bohl, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Towler, clinical associate professor of physiotherapy, also built these systems for Clarkson. There are two UV room systems on campus. One is in the health center to clean the examination rooms, the other has facilities to decontaminate the quarantine rooms.

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