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Helping keep frontline workers well stocked with PPEs

Dan Broadfoot of Hollywood Fabricating with one of the face shield holders he is 3D printing to help in the fight against COVID-19. Bill Phillips photo

It’s a small piece of plastic, about four inches long, notched on both sides.

If you didn’t know what it was, you probably wouldn’t guess. But it has a role to play in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re backstraps for surgical masks. With frontline health care workers, including paramedics and police officers, having to wear masks for extended periods to time now, the backstraps ease the pressure, and abrasions, regular masks cause behind the ears.

And, they’re being made right here in Prince George, thanks to some timely funding, ingenuity, technology, and good old-fashioned connections. The backstraps along with face-shield frames are being printed … on a legion of 3D printers in the community

Dan Broadfoot, a Metis entrepreneur, started Hollywood Fabricating in Prince George almost 30 years ago. He did usual fabricating work but a few years back he became interested 3D printing. He was soon hooked on the creativity and ingenuity involved in the process.

“When I learned a few weeks ago that this major pre-occupation of mine could help provide essential items for frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19, I did not hesitate to stand up,” he said.

Dr. Malgorzata Kaminska

He started asking around and eventually contacted Dr. Malgorzata Kaminska and her husband Richard.

Kaminska, who works and UNBC, was in medical school in Ontario during the SARS outbreak there more than 15 years ago.

“I still very clearly remember how worried we were about running out of personal protective equipment (PPE),” he said. “When COVID-19 started to spread across Canada and the world, it became a worry of mine that we might actually be running out of PPEs.”

Her husband, Richard, has been working in 3D printing for several years and so the two of them looked at what they could produce.

“They have to be safe, they have to be functional, and they have to be comfortable,” she said. “You have to be able to clean them properly.”

She and Richard started producing backstraps and face shield frames and distributing them through her network of contacts in the health care community.

With one 3D printer, however, their production was limited. They bought a second 3D printer, and demand was still outstripping their production capacity.

She reached out through her network and the Two Rivers Gallery’s Maker Lab and eventually contacted Broadfoot.

Kaminska then shared the special computer files needed to print the straps with Broadfoot and his stable of six printers.

“And I got started,” he said.

The kicker, the straps are being distributed free of charge.

“As more people within Dr. Kaminska’s health care network became aware of what myself, and many others were doing, the demand for these items grew substantially.”

That led Broadfoot to purchase more 3D printers and materials needed. As the demand grew for these free products, Broadfoot went in search of funding. That’s when the Metis Finance Corporation of B.C. got involved and came through with funding for Broadfoot.

“The work he’s been doing the past couple of weeks, providing, free of charge, essential medical supplies for the local and surrounding community is amazing,” Evan Salter, CEO of Metis Finance Corporation of B.C.

The printers run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and orders keep coming in. One of the biggest orders was for 400 of the straps for police officers.

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