BC RCMP officer uses 3D printer to make protective equipment for first responders

Apr 14 2020, 1:39 pm

A BC RCMP officer who said he simply wanted to help his fellow first responders during the pandemic is now being lauded by his colleagues, after using his 3D printer to create personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders.

“All first responders are facing the very real fact that they may be looking at a situation where the supply and demand cannot keep up with the need for the proper masks,” said Const. Dave Feller with the Merritt RCMP detachment.

And while the N95 respirator mask is effective protection against infection and contamination for first responders, the sheer demand for the masks has meant that supply has been tight.

At the Merritt detachment, some officers prefer the half-face respirators because of their tight seal and, as they are made of silicone, they are reusable once sanitized. However, they require a carbon 3M cartridge filter, and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the prices have skyrocketed.

Seeing these issues of price, demand, and supply, Feller, who in addition to being a police officer is also an amateur inventor, began to look for ways to help his coworkers.

He experimented with the design, then created and tested a cartridge using his 3D printer. Then, he created the filters that fit in the cartridge using anti-microbial material, like what is found in a standard respirator mask.

The cartridge is threaded so the officer could unscrew it and change the paper filter. The ability to change the filters enables a police officer to wear the mask all day.

Through this experimentation process, Feller found that he could make nine filters from one mask, with each cartridge taking about two hours to make.

“These masks prevent contamination for officers who have no choice but to be in close proximity to those who are potentially carrying the coronavirus,” said Feller.

As part of the creative process, Feller noted he has a good friend who is a nurse who mentioned that the mask hooks behind the ears. This, he said, is fine for a few hours, but over time, the loops pull forward and cut into the ears.

I have seen nurses use paperclips, tie ribbon, and variety of other options to fulfill a similar purpose, said Feller. I wanted to provide them with something that was quick, convenient, and could be sanitized.

To mitigate this issue, Feller designed a small simple plastic clip that hooks onto the strings of the surgical mask behind the head, effectively taking any pressure off the ears.

He dropped off the first batch of the clips at the hospital, leaving with requests for more. Subsequently setting up his 3D printer to produce these clips en masse, Feller said he has now delivered hundreds to the local hospitals and care homes in Merritt, Kamloops, and Kelowna, and just sent a package to Vancouver Island.

It wasn’t long before production on his 3D printers was running 24/7. He has recruited a couple of colleagues to produce the clips on their 3D printers. He wants to raise awareness that there are options available using 3D printers.

I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, I can’t fight COVID-19, but at least, I want to try to protect those that do, said Feller, who has now contacted a person in Spain who has designed a ventilator on a 3D printer. Feller has asked for that design and plans to start producing ventilator components as well.

I just want to help my fellow first responders, said Feller, adding that once the COVID-19 crisis is over and the “need is no longer there,” he hopes to donate the printers to the school to give the younger generation the opportunity to learn, experiment and create.