MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Barbara Van De Water, a medical student in her third year, showed up for her volunteer shift at Montgomery’s Jackson Hospital in late-March, she was told by her supervisor, “We appreciate you coming in this morning, but we’ve run out of [Personal Protective Equipment] and we can’t have you working here today.”
Relating her story to her spouse, Maj. Scott Van De Water of Air University’s LeMay Center, they realized how the lack of proper equipment for hospitals and clinics was contributing to a critical situation for health workers and their patients, and as the number of those impacted by COVID-19 continued to rise through early April they began exploring ideas on how to assist.
With an interest in technology, the Van De Waters began researching how they might use 3-D printing to create protective face masks as individuals had been doing in other parts of the country.
While exploring options, the couple came across another group led by Maj. Nic Schmidt ofAir Command and Staff College, and later joined by Maj. Juan Ramirez of Squadron Officer School, who had launched an effort to produce masks for Baptist Medical Center.
A call out to others led to the involvement of more people and within a week over 35 volunteers had linked up to form a new organization – Montgomery Fighting COVID.
Utilizing a shared non-commercial license, the group quickly ramped up production of the Prusa Face Shield – a print design which has just a few parts and could be easily assembled by hospital staff upon delivery.
While Air University personnel were a significant component of the effort, the team was an eclectic mix of organizations from across the area including Alabama State University, Dreamland BBQ, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, Rhye Enterprises, Montgomery Academy, Gears, Inc., and Auburn University at Montgomery. Vaughn Forest Church offered space for storage and distribution of the PPE while MACS, Inc., which runs an armored car and courier service, delivered masks all around the area.
“This has been an exceptional collaboration,” stated Dr. Mehmed Ali, Director of the Fairchild Research Information Center which loaned their 3-D printer to the effort. “…and broadcasts the role that Air University and the entire Maxwell-Gunter enterprise plays in working together to help make Montgomery a great community.”
Within the space of several weeks Montgomery Fighting COVID had sourced and manufactured over 8000 shield masks. These were delivered to institutions in 25 counties across central Alabama including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and to Montgomery area police, fire fighters, EMTs, and corrections officers.
In an instance of fortuitous timing, immediately after the team dropped off masks to a clinic near Lake Martin, which had limited PPE available the first COVID patient was admitted.
As the numbers of those impacted continues to fluctuate, Maj. Van De Water is gratified that the group could assist.
“It was a privilege to do something small for our front-line workers in a time when they are doing so much to keep us safe…,” he said. “The selfless sacrifice of our colleagues getting up in the middle of the night to keep printing, of our volunteers, of our partners around the state was inspiring. It is a testament to the American spirit."