New tech helping keep ambulances free of COVID-19

Posted at 10:49 AM, May 15, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s not the kind of work first responders usually do, as several of them slowly make their way around an ambulance to tape up every window, door and vent.

“It's a little bit different from what we're used to doing on the street,” said Washington, D.C. EMS Capt. Marcus Drucker. “This is miles beyond just a simple spray of bleach and wiping a surface off.”

Yet, once that ambulance gets sealed, the coronavirus will meet its match.

And lose.

“We actually have little tickets that tell us exactly how much has been killed,” said Washington, D.C. Deputy Fire Chief James Hanson.

The killer is a high-tech machine from the company Bioquell. It emits a high concentration of a hydrogen peroxide vapor that invades every nook and cranny of an ambulance, on the hunt for pathogens, including the coronavirus. The vapor eliminates 99.9% of them.

“We're in a dangerous profession,” Deputy Chief Hanson said.

The department purchased six of these $30,000 machines, right when the coronavirus pandemic started. The investment paid off.

“We'd already seen some of our members develop COVID-19 and that takes them out of commission,” Deputy Chief Hanson said. “So, if we're able to clean these units, to make sure that they maintain a clean environment, they won't get it. They won't give it to the patients. And, finally, they won't bring it home to their families.”

The entire process takes about three hours, including crews showering and removing any contaminated clothing for washing. The Bioquell machines can run through 16 ambulances a day. A larger version handles other potentially contaminated items, like N95 masks.

“What we're doing here represents a huge investment and a huge leap in terms of what's being done,” Capt. Drucker said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the machines have become harder to find. For these first responders, the foresight to acquire this tech likely saved lives.

“Ultimately, we're doing this to protect our people, so that they can protect others,” Deputy Chief Hanson said.

The Bioquell machines are also being used in hospitals around the world, including one health system in South Carolina.