CORONAVIRUS/Taiwanese businessman designs isolation booths for ambulances

06/26/2021 10:12 PM
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Johnson Yang in an ambulance fitted with his design. CNA photo June 26, 2021
Johnson Yang in an ambulance fitted with his design. CNA photo June 26, 2021

Taipei, June 26 (CNA) On a recent day, several ambulances are parked outside a factory in Taichung's Dali District, but the neighborhood is quiet without any sense of emergency.

Instead, a man wearing eyeglasses is overseeing the installation of an airtight isolation booth in an ambulance's patient compartment.

The man, Johnson Yang (楊冠威), is an entrepreneur who is in charge of Taichung-based SYT Technology Co., which produces items made of plastic and other materials.

He decided to design a booth made of transparent acrylic boards and other materials after Taichung's Fire Bureau, which counts among its responsibilities providing emergency medical services, came to him for help in May.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, emergency responders were putting their lives at risk by transporting people infected with the highly infectious airborne virus.

Without some way to isolate the patient with its ambulances, the Fire Bureau was relying on rather crude methods to keep its emergency responders safe.

Johnson Yang. CNA photo June 26, 2021
Johnson Yang. CNA photo June 26, 2021

It used curing tape to try to seal off the vehicle's driver compartment, and medical staffers riding in the patient compartment with patients felt even less protected, even with a face mask and other personal protective equipment. The Fire Bureau also needed about two hours to disinfect its ambulances after every run with a patient.

To address these problems, Yang decided to design an isolation booth that separates a person suspected of having COVID-19 from paramedics in an ambulance but that would still allow them to monitor the patient's condition.

He acknowledged that finding a workable solution was much more challenging than he had imagined.

It took four days for Yang to develop a prototype for the isolation booth and run tests to make sure it worked. Customization was needed because the interior designs of ambulances vary, Yang said.

He also had heavy smoke puffed into the booth to see if there were any gas leaks. It was a way to make sure that potential viruses could not leak from the booth to other parts of the ambulance, Yang said.

The result, he said, is that the isolation booths not only prevent viruses from spreading across an ambulance but also make disinfecting the vehicle much easier.

With the isolation booth installed in the ambulance, it now takes Fire Bureau staff only about 10 minutes to disinfect the booth after each trip, Yang said.

CNA photo June 26, 2021
CNA photo June 26, 2021

The isolation booth, however, only allows people to sit and is not suitable for people who need to lie down on a cot and be attended to by medical staffers.

Still, they can be useful, and Yang has built nearly 20 of his contraptions so far, all free of charge, for ambulances managed by the fire bureaus of Taichung as well as Miaoli and Nantou counties.

Speaking about why he did it, Yang, who has been a member of Taichung's Volunteer Fire Brigade for a decade, said he wanted to contribute to the country's disease control efforts.

Yang has volunteered less in recent years because of his busy work schedule, but his passion for helping firefighters and paramedics has not faded, symbolized by the row of miniature ambulance models displayed in his office.

"People who are involved in fire bureau services are like a family," Yang said.

Yang did not disclose how much it cost to build an isolation booth, but he said he had received some donations from friends and strangers who appreciated his work.

The donations have "made my hard work all worthwhile and warmed my heart," Yang said, expressing hope that Taiwan will soon overcome the current challenge it faces from COVID-19 with everyone helping however they can.

(By Su Mu-chun and Teng Pei-ju)

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Johnson Yang explains his design (in Chinese).
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