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Ill. high schools lend 3D printers to fire department to make PPE

The printers, which are used for engineering classes, will help produce masks that can be sterilized and reused


Mike Nolan
The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

MIDLOTHIAN, Ill. — A donation of safety glasses by Tinley Park High School to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn drew kudos from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who singled out the school Tuesday during his daily media briefing updating coronavirus.

But Bremen High School District 228, which includes Tinley Park, has also loaned two 3D printers to the Midlothian Fire Department to make protective masks, said Jamie Bonnema, a district spokeswoman.

Greg Slade, a District 228 teacher, showed employees via phone how to use the printers to make masks, Bonnema said.

The Fire Department contacted District 228 about borrowing the printers, which students had previously used in engineering courses to make items such as keychains and toy trains, Slade said.

South Suburban College in South Holland said it also is employing 3D printing at its satellite campus in Oak Forest to produce clear plastic full-face shields for health care workers.

The printers use a plastic filament and follow a 3D drawing to make each mask, which takes about 2½ hours, Slade said.

The best thing about the masks is that they can be sterilized and used again, unlike N95 masks which are typically intended for a single use.

The Midlothian department has made about 15 masks and is keeping them on hand as a backup if the department runs out of protective gear such as masks, according to Capt. Jon Kucharski, who worked with the district on the loan of the printers. The program to produce the masks came from a technical school in Billings, Montana, he said.

Most of the department’s firefighters are also paramedics, and they are treating pretty much every call as a potential exposure to the coronavirus because people who are not showing symptoms could be infected, Kucharski said Thursday.

One printer is being used to make filters that are inserted in the masks, with the filters able to be used a few times before being discarded, he said. The filters take about 45 minutes each to produce. Elastic strips would be used to secure the mask to someone’s face, Kucharski said.

“We have increased numbers of calls due to this and we have to keep our personnel safe,” he said.

The printer loan has been part of a districtwide effort in recent weeks to provide personal protective equipment to health care workers and first responders.

With hospitals citing critical shortages of gear such as masks and gloves, they’ve pleaded with the public to try to offset the shortfall.

District 228 schools in Country Club Hills and Midlothian quickly gathered up items that would have normally been used to safeguard students and teachers in science classes, but are no longer needed with schools being closed.

Gloves were given to fire departments in Country Club Hills, Midlothian, Oak Forest and Tinley Park, Bonnema said.

Bonnema said that district faculty have also brought protective equipment such as gloves and masks to their schools, which will be distributed.

South Suburban College is also donating protective equipment including masks with respirators, surgical masks, gloves and gowns to area hospitals. The items were collected from the college’s allied health & careers and nursing departments.

Although the main campus and satellite classes have been closed, the school said staff at the SouthWorks Maker Lab at its Oak Forest campus have been given limited access to the building to make the full-face clear shields. They are also being produced for healthcare workers.

Saint Xavier University on Chicago’s Southwest Side has also pulled together donations, including protective equipment.

The university said its school of nursing and health sciences donated isolation gowns, gloves and masks to Advocate Christ Hospital as well as Big Run Wolf Ranch in Lockport, a nonprofit educational facility.

The school said it has also loaned 10 iPads to residents at Mercy Circle, a southwest side assisted living facility, to let residents keep in touch with family who are no longer allowed to visit them.

Saint Xavier officials said that through community fundraising efforts, its dining service has been able to deliver meals to more than 1,000 seniors daily, and also brought food to staff at Christ Hospital.


©2020 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)

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