CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) is using an innovative process to clean and decontaminate hundreds of ambulances and police vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 250 Emergency Medical Service (EMS) and Fire Department ambulances and police vehicles from around the Greater Kanawha Valley are among those that will be sanitized.
The mobile Aerosolized Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP) system uses a 7% hydrogen peroxide solution that is vaporized into a dry fog. The non-toxic, non-residue fog reaches all areas and cycles through ventilation systems. It 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 disinfect and sanitize medical devices such as surgery tools. By acquiring mobile AHP units, the WVNG can effectively sanitize vehicle interiors.
“The importance of this mission is to ensure we keep our first responders and their patients safe,” said 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.”
Vehicles will pull into a hangar at the sanitization station at Yeager Airport. The AHP system machine will be placed in the vehicle and the vehicle will be sealed. The system will be operated from outside by a remote Bluetooth iPad app.
During the 45-minute cleaning process, the vehicle fills with the hydrogen peroxide fog, with the machine automatically maintaining the recommended proper parts per million per cubic-feet level of solvent to sanitize the vehicle interior. In the final phase, the fog is sucked back into the machine and broken down into water vapor and oxygen. The vehicle is opened and aired out for 10 minutes to allow any residual chemical smells or vapor to dissipate.
Reactive chemical test strips will provide visual proof that the AHP system is working properly. Vehicles will also undergo Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) surface tests to measure actively growing microorganisms rapidly. This will provide triple verification that the vehicle is properly sanitized and ready for return to service.
While the vehicles are sanitized, WVNG Soldiers will help EMS, Fire Department and police first responders decontaminate their personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing.
“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.”
“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 will be limited to the Greater Kanawha Valley, the program could be expanded to other areas of the state.
“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 said.
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.