W.Va. FD sanitizes face masks with UV boxes

The department found plans online to build the boxes themselves


Greg Jordan
Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va.

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — A do-it-yourself project is helping local first responders get more use out of the face masks they need while the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Unlike other public servants who are still working while others stay home, firefighters and police officers still have to make close contact with the people they’re serving and protecting. This makes having face masks and other personal protection equipment, which is in high demand, more important. Police Chief Dennis Dillow said officers need masks constantly.

One idea is helping ease the demand for PPE supplies. Dillow said the Bluefield Fire Department found plans online for an ultraviolet (UV) box for sterilizing masks, and the departments found some funds to make some.

Capt. Shannon Akers of the Bluefield Fire Department said the firefighters were researching what other departments were doing around the country to get more use out of their masks. That’s when they found out about ultraviolet sterilizing boxes.

“They discovered the plan online on how to do it, so we just ordered the UV lights online and we just came together and kind of put them all together,” Akers recalled. “It’s made out of plywood, aluminum foil and UV lights, and that’s really all there is to it.”

Standing about 28-inches tall and around 10-inches wide, the boxes have space for placing used masks.

“You turn the light on and let the light run for approximately 10 minutes, and the UV lighting actually kills a lot of germs,” Akers said.

The UV boxes are helping local police and firefighters extend the life of their masks.

“Right now the supplies are very hard to come by,” Akers stated. “It’s hard for everybody in the nation. It’s helping us repurpose those instead of having to try and buy new ones. They’re definitely a necessity as part of our PPE (personal protection equipment) to protect our airways so germs don’t enter through the nose or mouth. It’s begun to let us extend our supplies and make them last longer than they normally would.”

Akers did not know exactly how many times a mask could be sterilized; the fibers in masks start to break down. Fighters made more boxes for the city’s departments.

“Our sanitation department has one, the police department has one and we have one in the firehouse,” Akers said.

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©2020 the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, W.Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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