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Hopewell Valley firefighters create protective face shields for fellow first responders

Photo courtesy of Mike Sullivan
3D printing machine producing one of the frames for the protective masks.

Inside the Union Fire Company and Rescue Squad firehouse are 12 3D printers tasked with creating protective masks for fellow first responders during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 3D printers are running day and night at the firehouse in Titusville, having already produced the frames for more than 1,000 assembled clear face shields.

Helping spearhead this effort is firefighter Mike Sullivan and his fellow firefighters at the company and Josh Wilson of Hopewell Valley’s Emergency Services. The face shield operation at the firehouse has been aided and began with help from the Hopewell Valley Regional School District, which owns the 12 printers.

“Josh (Wilson) and I worked together on this. We went and got 12 printers from various schools in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District. We ended up getting a little filament from each of the schools as to not wipe anybody out by the time we get back to regular school,” Sullivan said. “What that amounted to was about three (one kilogram) spools per printer and a couple of bigger spools.”

Each one-kilogram spool of filament can produce 60 face mask frames for each printer. The filament referenced are plastics that melt and are shaped and molded. Filament solidifies when cooled.

There was an estimated plan of creating 3,000 masks when the operation began in the beginning of April.

“The biggest shortcoming we will have to reaching that number is that transparencies (clear face shields) are getting harder and harder to find. We wiped out the Hopewell Valley Central High School, Timberlane Middle School and Stony Brook Elementary School of all the transparency they had,” Sullivan said. “We have a few hundred clear shields left and have a few feelers out to get some more, as well as, donations to purchase some.”

The 3D printing machines are printing out the frames that go on your head and ear coverings, then firefighters are three-whole punching the clear face shields to connect to the frames.

A crew at the station during the week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. monitors the frames as they are being created.

“In the morning I get the printers set up for the day. The crew at the firehouse then take the finished shields off the printer and reset the printer for another print until they leave at 6 p.m. Jack Finnegan another volunteer with me he goes down there at night and resets them until 10 or 11 p.m. They end up finishing their last print around 1 a.m.”

The 3D printers run seven days a week. During the week the printers will run for 18 hours per day and on the weekend for 15 hours.

Finished protective masks have been delivered to police departments, fire company and emergency medical services in Hopewell Township, Lawrence Township, Ewing Township, Hamilton, Trenton and the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department, and also to personnel at Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell and nursing homes.

“Mostly in Mercer County is where our masks are going. Our main goal is to serve the community that we are in here in Hopewell and that is really our number one directive,” Sullivan said.

For the school district administration, it was an easy decision to help aid the operation from the beginning, according to Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith.

“The printers will return to the district when the project is finished. The printing filament that was used is relatively inexpensive and we already have donations to replenish what the district provided,” he said.

He added that the effort to create the protective face shields is incredibly important.

“First, it allows the district to give back to our community, in particular our health care workers and first responders. Second, it shows a real life application of our 3D printers and how a few individuals can really make a difference,” Smith said.

Sullivan is vice president and a trustee of the fire company, which he has been a part of for 21 years. The operation to create the clear face protective masks came about after a conversation between Sullivan and Wilson.

“Josh (Wilson) and I are friends going back that far and he asked whether there was any personal protective equipment (PPE) over at the Hopewell Valley Central High School since I teach there, specifically looking for face shields,” Sullivan said. “We asked several of the teachers and there were not a lot of face shields available.”

Sullivan went on to put in a request to use the 3D printers available.

“I put the request in to utilize the 3D printers so we could start making a few of these shields. I also started getting in touch with families in the community who are also printing at home as well,” Sullivan said. “I networked with them shared designs and figured out how we were going approach this operation moving forward.”

Sullivan added that since the operation began they have been able to help not only Hopewell first responders but first responders across Mercer County.

“When we first started this operation and let the local first responders and hospitals know, they told us the number that they needed and we got it to them. Now we are calling around to figure out who needs these face masks and it is getting further and further from our home base in Hopewell Township.”

Finished frames created by the 3D printers at the Union Fire Company and Rescue Squad in Titusville.
3D printers during production at the the Union Fire Company and Rescue Squad in Titusville.
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