W.Va. Guard utilizes innovative decontamination process to sanitize public safety apparatus

  • Published
  • By Edwin L. Wriston

The West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) has established a COVID-19 decontamination and sanitation process for first responder apparatus utilizing a mobile Aerosolized Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP) system, and plan to sanitize more than 250 vehicles over the next few days. This is part of a long-term sustained effort across multiple county and state entities, in conjunction with Yeager Airport, to ensure first responder and patient safety during the ongoing global pandemic.

Emergency Medical Service (EMS) and Fire Department ambulances as well as police vehicles from around the Greater Kanawha Valley are among those that will be sanitized utilizing the innovative process at Yeager Airport.

The AHP system uses a 7% hydrogen peroxide solution that is vaporized into a dry fog. The non-toxic, non-residue fog is able to reach all areas of ambulances and response vehicles, including hard-to-reach areas, and cycles through the ambulance ventilation systems during the cleaning process. VPH has been shown to be effective in killing spores, viruses, mycobacteria, fungi, and bacteria.

“While ambulances are always cleaned by crews between medical calls, this process provides us a more stringent level of sanitation to help alleviate any potential spread of COVID-19,” said Larry Cole, Director of Administration, Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority (KCEAA). “This effort is setting a new standard in the cleaning and sterilization of ambulances during this pandemic, and in the future when any type of contagious pathogen situation is involved.”

AHP systems are typically static, used in hospitals and medical facilities to effectively disinfect and sanitize metal and nonmetal medical devices such as surgery tools. By acquiring mobile AHP units, the WVNG can effectively sanitize vehicle interiors, a novel and innovative approach.

“The importance of this mission is to ensure we keep our first responders and their patients safe,” stated Lt. Col. Walter "Wally" Hatfield, Army Interagency Training and Education Center (AITEC) deputy commander. “Our first responders are our day-to-day heroes that are out there on the front lines, pandemic or not, putting their lives on the line to serve the public. By utilizing the portable VHP systems, we can bring the benefits of this technology directly to them where it can do the most good.”

Apparatus will arrive at the sanitization station established at Yeager Airport and pull into a designated hanger. Once inside, WVNG members will log the vehicle in, marking their arrival time and unit numbers. The AHP system machine will be placed inside the vehicle, and the vehicle then sealed. The system will be operated from outside the vehicle by a remote Bluetooth iPad app.

Once initiated, the system will go through a 3-phase cleaning process; a dry fogging phase where the inside of the vehicle fills with the 7% hydrogen peroxide fog, a pulsing phase where the machine automatically maintains the recommended proper parts per million (ppm) per cubic-feet level of solvent to sanitize the vehicle interior, and a final dissipation phase where the fog is sucked back into the machine and broken down into water vapor and oxygen. Once this process is complete, the apparatus is opened up and allowed to aerate for 10-minutes to allow any residual chemical smells or vapor to dissipate. The unit is then ready to resume normal operations.

The entire AHP sanitation process takes approximately 45 minutes.

During the time the apparatus is being sanitized, WVNG Soldiers will assist EMS, Fire, and Police responders with decontaminating their personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing.

In addition to the AHP system, reactive chemical test strips will be used to provide visual proof that the AHP system is working properly. As a final step, the apparatuses will undergo Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) surface tests used to rapidly measure actively growing microorganisms. This will provide triple verification that the apparatus is properly sanitized and ready for return to service.

“Currently, we have identified more than 250 apparatus in Kanawha County alone that we want to put through this AHP system process,” said Hatfield. “Priority will be given to ‘previously contaminated’ vehicles that have positive confirmation of transporting a COVID-19-positive patient. Our goal is to get a good battle rhythm going that will allow us to sanitize as many vehicles as possible in as efficient a manner as possible and allow the responder agencies to establish a good rotation pattern for each unit to be sanitized on an on-going regular basis.”

“This isn’t a one-and-done effort,” he added. “The WVNG will be here for the long haul to support every facet of this operation.”

While the initial phase of this operation will be limited to the Greater Kanawha Valley, the hope is to be able to model the operation for other areas of the state as well.

“Once this site is fully functional, we have a good understanding of the entire logistical requirements involved, and we are showing positive results, we hope we can acquire additional AHP systems to distribute to key locations around the state and duplicate the process many times over,” Hatfield stated.

One of the key elements in making the AHP process a success is the whole-of-government approach that West Virginia has adopted, utilizing partnerships between government agencies, volunteers, and the business and non-profit communities.

James Mason, Assistant Airport Director Yeager Airport, said that when Yeager Airport was originally asked if they could help facilitate this effort, they immediately began working to make it happen.

“At the onset of the current state of emergency, we were contacted by the Kanawha County Health Command to see if we could make space available at the airport for field hospitals, and we were able to get that approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Due to us having a secure and controlled environment, along with the large decontamination and staging space needed for this type of process, we were then asked if we would be able to facilitate the first responder apparatus sanitation process. We of course said yes.”

Mason added that playing a major role in helping this effort is something that the entire Yeager Airport staff are proud of.

“Simply, it is the right thing to do. Our local first responders are critical to the safety and health of our communities. We want to give back. Right now, our public safety agencies are working on a razors edge. If our responders get sick, there is no backfill. So, the more we can do to ensure their safety and to help them keep serving our communities, the better it is for everyone involved.”