CHATHAM — More than ever, fire departments need to make sure that ambulances are fully sanitized between each response, and that can be a labor-intensive process. But Chatham firefighters are trying a new way to sanitize ambulances, police cars and other vehicle interiors using an improvised aerosol system.
Fire Chief Peter Connick said credit properly goes to the Tulsa, Okla., fire department, which posted a YouTube video showing the procedure; the details have since been published in Firehouse magazine. Chatham firefighters picked up on the idea, and Firefighter Harrison Fietz took on the job of building the device.
“He’s the one who said, ‘Oh, I can make that,’” Connick said. A trip to a Hyannis hardware store and about $120 later, and Fietz had what he needed to build the unit: a paint sprayer with a special nozzle and a reservoir for the sanitizing solution.
“It puts a very, very fine mist on, so it’s probably a 10-minute-at-most drying process,” the chief said. Users put on a mask and goggles and spray every surface inside the ambulance to ensure that infectious agents like the coronavirus are killed.
It’s a vast improvement over the previous procedure, which involved using disposable wipes. Wearing gloves, a gown and a mask, staff would wipe “every surface on the inside of the ambulance—floor, ceiling, walls, stretcher—anything that was touched,” Connick said. If a cabinet was opened, everything in the cabinet needed to be wiped down. Likewise, if responders had to open a kit containing special equipment or supplies, every piece needed to be wiped. “That can be dozens of pieces of equipment,” he said.
Because the wipes didn’t leave a visible wet surface, “you had to be on your game 100 percent of the time,” the chief said. The aerosol spray leaves the surface wet. “You don’t miss any area. And it’s fast, so we can get back in service way faster.”
The system is portable, and can be used on police cruisers or lockup cells at the police station and vehicles, including fire trucks.
The online community of EMS providers not only came up with the aerosol system, they continue to troubleshoot and improve it. Before Chatham tried it out, firefighters in various online forums warned against spraying a particular piece of equipment on fire trucks, a sensor that measures certain types of gases like oxygen and carbon monoxide. The procedure can permanently ruin those expensive devices, a lesson that Chatham didn’t have to learn the hard way, Connick said.
But other than that, the mist can safely be applied to all the surfaces in the ambulance, including radios and other electronic devices.
Connick said the fire department shared the instructions with the town’s DPW, which may build their own device for decontaminating their equipment.
The aerosol device will likely become part of the department’s normal ambulance cleaning procedures even after the COVID-19 emergency is over, the chief said.
“We didn’t do the deep decontamination after every patient, but we had a regular schedule for that,” Connick said. “This is easy, it’s fast, and most importantly, it’s way more thorough.”