Local military mom 3-D printing masks to keep first responders, medical staff safe

SALEM, Mass. — A local military mom who started off collecting supplies to keep our troops safe from COVID-19 during the beginning of the pandemic is now using a 3-D printer to make masks for first responders and medical staff.

According to a report from the Washington Post, the national stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) - masks, gloves and other medical equipment, is nearly gone.

More than ever doctors and nurses need the proper tools to stay safe from the deadly virus.

Hope Carpenter first spoke to Boston 25 News back in February when she was raising money to send hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and N95 face masks to American troops stationed abroad. Inspired by her own son who is stationed at an AirForce base in South Korea, Carpenter created an online fundraiser that was shared around Facebook called “Operation Germ Drop."

“When they run out of supplies, what are they supposed to do? They can’t get off base to get things,” said Carpenter. “The idea with Operation Germ Drop is just to get them the basics so they can just keep themselves a little safer.”

Now, Carpenter and her trusty 3-D machine are producing masks inside her own home, since she, alike the rest of the world, is quarantined due to the virus.

“When I started seeing people were printing masks and other things, I said, ‘I think I’m going to try that. Why not?’” said Carpenter. "Then I started having people ask me for them because they knew I had a 3-D printer. That was pretty shocking to me actually, to be asked by health care professionals.”

Following the blueprints for medical equipment shared by a small community online, Carpenter said the biggest challenge was finding the right one.

“I ended up with a—it’s really just a basic respirator mask,” said Carpenter.

According to her, there’s no question the masks work, “especially [considering] what people are doing.” Carpenter says she also tried to put some weather stripping on the masks to ensure they stay on tightly.

“What’s important is that it’s a very tight, tight fit,” said Carpenter.

She’s already sent on to a firefighter in Florida and another to a nurse at Mass. General Hospital.

“A couple of these will be going to the firefighters in Florida who requested them," said Carpenter.

In an effort to give back to those helping save and keep us healthy, Carpenter has not been making any money off the making the masks - she just wishes she could make them faster.

"I’m shocked at the stories I’m hearing, and I’ll get emotional about it, I’m really shocked at the stories I’m hearing from health care professionals who have no protection on the front line,” said Carpenter.

While it isn’t expensive, it is time consuming. It takes around 5 hours to print each mask.

Online communities also have blueprints that detail how you can 3-D print a ventilator as well, something Carpenter says she hopes will be her next project.