Firefighters are exposed to a particularly high risk of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the cramped crew cab of fire engines. The reason for this is transmission through aerosols that accumulate in the air there. New, even more contagious coronavirus variants further increase this risk. Densely packed with less than one cubic meter of space per person, more than one million firefighters in Germany and many millions more around the world are exposed to this risk of infection every time they travel inside a fire truck without vaccination. With the help of the Proxi-Cube, different measures for reducing aerosols inside fire engines have now been investigated in a field trial.
Dr. Thomas Schäfer from the CeMOS Competence Center at Mannheim University of Applied Sciences had the idea for developing the Proxi-Cube. For the aerosol detector, for which a patent has since been filed, Schäfer and his team used the same sensor technology as for measuring particulate matter, but in a double pack: one sensor simply measures the room air drawn in, while the second heats the air drawn in to such an extent that liquids evaporate. The device then uses the difference between the two measurements to calculate the amount of aqueous droplets present in the air - enabling it to reliably distinguish between solids and liquid particles.
In order to find out the best protective measures against the spread of liquid aerosols inside the fire engines, the few volunteer firefighters from Edingen-Neckarhausen, Hirschberg, Ilvesheim and Ladenburg, who already have Corona vaccination protection due to other entitlements from their professional or private environment, have now embarked on a field experimental study under the leadership of the Ilvesheim Volunteer Fire Department. For a whole day, the effect of different protective measures on the dispersion of liquid aerosols was scientifically investigated within the framework of controlled measurement runs in a fire engine. Team members from the Institute of Clinical Chemistry at the University Medical Center Mannheim provided additional protection for the participating emergency forces immediately before the start of the measurement runs by performing PCR and antibody tests in the Baden-Württemberg Foundation's CoVLAB truck. The CeMOS research center at Mannheim University of Applied Sciences deployed its world-leading ProxiCube measurement technology for the size-specific determination of liquid aerosols inside the fire truck together with its project partners Nevoox Europe GmbH and ProxiVision GmbH.
"It is a stroke of luck for the region that Mannheim has such outstanding as well as transfer-strong research facilities and production networks of the economic development, which support us here great", the initiator of the study, Dr. Elmar Bourdon, is pleased. As an associated scientist at the joint Institute for Medical Technology at the University of Heidelberg and the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, and at the same time commander of the Ilvesheim firefighters in an honorary capacity, he emphasizes: "The study results will now be submitted for international scientific review and publication together with the partners from CeMOS and University Medicine Mannheim, so that they can be turned into reliable recommendations for firefighting practitioners".
Marketing of the globally unique Proxi-Cube has now begun. ProxiVision GmbH, as a cooperation partner of the university, has completed and delivered the first devices with the name Proxi Cube. Through active involvement in the Smart Production network, an initiative of the City of Mannheim's Economic Development Department, the first users have been acquired and a Mannheim-based sales partner has been found in Nevoox Europe GmbH, which has taken over exclusive worldwide sales of the device. The Proxi Cube will be regularly available in stores from April.