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Disinfecting with precision with AeroClave

June 10, 2024

AeroClave Founder Ron Brown discusses the evolution of automated decontamination and its practical applications

AeroClave was launched in 2003, inspired by the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.

At that time, I was asked to help devise a quarantine facility at an international airport in my jurisdiction, which handled many charter flights from the UK.

During a meeting, I questioned who would disinfect the aircraft if we took care of the patients.

This led to a discussion about disease transmission via tray tables and other surfaces on planes.

They had no solution for disinfecting aircraft, and my entrepreneurial spirit led me to think about “autoclaving” the aircraft without damaging them.

I spent a year talking to people in the airline industry to understand the maximum temperature aircraft could withstand.

After obtaining the information, I formed AeroClave, raised funds from investors, and began developing prototypes.

Initially, AeroClave aimed to combat viral disease transmission on commercial aircraft and so for the first few years we focused on commercial aircraft, obtaining FAA approvals and demonstrating our technology.

As AeroClave expanded, we started educated firefighters and the EMS community about the importance of cleanliness in ambulances and firehouses.

AeroClave now has two divisions: one focused on government and DoD-related aircraft, and the commercial side, which serves EMS, hospitals, correctional facilities, and public transit systems like city buses.

Introducing RDS 3110

It all started with the Winter Park Fire Department.

There were numerous studies showing how dirty fire stations were and how personnel were getting sick.

Winter Park Fire Department began using the AeroClave RDS 3110 both daily in their ambulances and as part of their weekly station cleaning protocol.

The RDS 3110 is multifunctional.

It can be used with a hand sprayer attachment to sanitise high-touch areas or as a room-fogger capable of treating up to 5,000 cubic feet of space.

For fire departments, it has several applications.

They can place it in the back of an ambulance and use it to fog the area via one of the port attachments.

Most departments use it daily or after any high-risk situations.

Ensuring effective decontamination

The key to effective decontamination is distributing the disinfectant fluid properly, ensuring enough contact time on surfaces.

It took us a while to determine the correct particle size.

If the particles are too small, they stay airborne too long and evaporate before reaching surfaces.

If they are too large, gravity causes them to fall too quickly, leaving surfaces too moist and not disseminating well.

Through extensive trial and error, we found the right particle size, pressure, and amount of fluid.

It’s a balance between the quantity of fluid and the air pressure used to distribute it, ensuring the space is adequately filled.

We use the correct nozzle size to achieve small enough particles to disseminate properly, but not so large that they fall out of the air too quickly.

Choosing Vital Oxide

We spent considerable time reviewing literature on different products and came across Vital Oxide.

It seemed to meet all our requirements.

In the U.S., it’s important to use products in accordance with their EPA labels, and many good disinfectants weren’t approved for fogging or didn’t have broad coverage.

Others had material compatibility issues or required significant PPE.

Vital Oxide ticked all the boxes.

It has an excellent safety profile, with the highest OSHA safety rating.

It’s non-toxic, doesn’t burn the skin or eyes if splashed, and doesn’t require respiratory protection.

Even if ingested, it’s non-toxic.

It’s also reasonably priced, costing about $1 per treatment for an ambulance.

Another major consideration was avoiding the “inkjet printer and cartridge” scenario where the equipment is inexpensive, but the consumables are costly.

We wanted to ensure the per-use cost was low.

Additionally, Vital Solutions, the owner of Vital Oxide, continually upgrades their label to include new organisms, which involves substantial testing costs.

They are dedicated to constantly improving their product, which impressed us the most.

Practical deployment

There are several ways to use the RDS 3110.

If you don’t have the built-in port attachment, you simply place the unit in the back of the ambulance, open it up, and select the appropriate mode, such as room fogging.

You press the start button, and that’s it.

For a standard large-size ambulance in the US, the fogging process takes about six minutes, followed by a 10-minute dwell time.

After this, you open the back doors to let the air circulate, and in about 20 minutes, the ambulance is ready for service again.

Most of our users opt for the port attachment.

In this setup, a mounted spray head is positioned over the double doors at the back of the ambulance, with two lines threaded down to an exterior compartment.

A six-foot hose is connected to the 3110 unit.

You open the compartment, attach the hose, select the appropriate mode, and press the start button.

The unit runs the cycle without needing to be placed inside the ambulance.

It notifies you with a beep when the process and the 10-minute aeration are done.

Then you simply open the back doors.

Additionally, we have a permanently mounted unit called the ATS.

With this system, you just click a remote to start the process, making it even more convenient for emergency services.

Reducing downtime

A study was conducted independently by the Winter Park Fire Department and Police Department.

The chief had called expressing interest in the RDS 3110 and have been using our technology for around two years.

They inadvertently became our test grounds, embracing the technology and becoming diligent about weekly station cleaning and daily decontamination of their ambulances.

Unbeknownst to us, they had conducted a retrospective analysis of sick leave and overtime costs.

One of the major budget items for fire departments is overtime, as they need to pay extra when someone is sick to fill their position.

The department analysed personnel costs and sick days, noticing a substantial drop in overtime expenses after they began using AeroClave routinely.

This decrease in overtime was directly related to fewer sick days among the staff.

 They followed this trend for a year and a half, observing progressively better results.

Optimising workload

The biggest advantage of automation is eliminating human error.

While it’s possible to achieve the same cleaning results in an ambulance with manual labour, the consistency depends on how someone feels and their motivation that day.

Automation removes this variability.

Additionally, it simplifies the process, as all calculations are pre-programmed for a standard ambulance.

You simply arm the unit, press the start button, and it’s done.

Users can adjust settings if needed, but the standard ones usually suffice.

We always emphasise that this system is an adjunct to proper mechanical cleaning.

It doesn’t make blood, vomit, or solids disappear; those still need to be manually cleaned.

However, from our discussions with end users, they feel it makes their vehicles safer.

They admit they might not be wiping things down as thoroughly or frequently as they should, but with the ease of just pressing a button, they tend to disinfect more often.

Adopting automation

The challenge is always about funding.

It’s all about how they can afford it.

This is why we have a very long sales cycle.

We have partnered with a company that helps find available grants for our customers.

If a department wants the system but can’t afford it immediately, this company will find a grant for them.

Once the funding is secured, they can purchase the unit.

This partnership has significantly reduced the barriers related to funding.

After COVID-19, there was some “COVID fatigue” where people didn’t want to talk about decontamination for a while.

Fortunately, this has subsided.

Now, departments are returning to the original purpose of the system, recognising that ambulances and fire stations are inherently dirty environments.

The AeroClave RDS 3110 improves overall hygiene, making their lives safer.

Modular management

Federal decontamination requirements are likely to come into play in the future.

Each year, we have updates to the standards for ambulances.

I’ve heard from committee members that there is a movement to mandate decontamination systems in all ambulances.

Our military customers have already moved in this direction, with every new Army or Marine ambulance equipped with an AeroClave system.

The industry is definitely moving towards making decontamination systems a requirement.

As for innovations from AeroClave, our goals are to make our products less expensive to purchase and easier to service.

We are working on making our systems more modular.

For instance, with the RDS 3110, if it requires service, customers currently have to ship the entire 45-pound unit.

We’re designing a modular system where only the internal component needs to be shipped.

This reduces downtime as we can exchange the component, sending a new one while receiving the faulty one for repair.

Additionally, we’re making everything web-enabled.

We want to gather data on how our units are being used.

This involves uploading data to the cloud via Bluetooth each time the unit is used.

We will provide this information to end-users through a dashboard, allowing them to receive notifications for maintenance and usage reports.

This data-driven approach is the future of EMS.

Data can also mean accountability.

We had one example from a police department where one of their officers died of COVID complications, and the family sued, claiming inadequate protective measures.

The department had our unit with data recording capability and he recorded data showed daily decontamination, which helped them win the lawsuit.

Having data on decontamination practices will be crucial for compliance and accountability.

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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