Spearfish Emergency Ambulance Service Finds PPE Reuse Through Black Hills State University

Apr 8, 2020

Credit Black Hills State University

Medical workers and first responders are using masks and protective equipment to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 but are finding that supplies are dwindling.

The Spearfish Emergency Ambulance Service now has a new way to extend the life of its face masks.

The service is partnering with Black Hills State University to use the school’s autoclave. The machine sterilizes equipment with high temperature and steam. It’s commonly found in hospitals and labs. 

Brian Hambek is the executive director of the Spearfish Ambulance Service. He said their current mask supply isn’t enough for the number of emergency calls they get each day.

“With the lack of supply of these masks, either surgical masks or the N95s, there's no way we can just use them once and throw them away,” he said. “If we throw them away after every use, we'd be burning masks right and left. And there's just no supply to refill the need.”

Currently, service members fill the autoclave with 50 face masks. After about an hour and a half, the masks are sterilized and can be used again.

“So, we're actually steaming these, or doing this autoclave process, on each mask five to eight times and then we'll throw the mask away,” Hambek said. “Well, you've got to make do with what you got, you know. So, we're going to make do with what we can on this process as long as we can to preserve that burn rate.”

Hambek said they’re also sterilizing masks for the city’s fire department, police department and city employees.