The high-tech set of video laryngoscopes used by Lincoln Fire and Rescue to navigate a patient's vocal cords and other obstructions during intubation came with a set of low-tech carrying cases.
Although better than the denier fabric cases of the manual scopes, which are hospitable to bacteria, the new cases included holders built from paper pulp prone to disintegration after the instruments were disinfected.
The department's options for more-durable, longer-lasting cases for the new scopes from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation were also lacking, said Brennan Oliverius, a firefighter-paramedic on LFR's Engine 3.
"What we wanted was a case that would hold these scopes in the EMS bags, but we just weren't happy with what we saw on the market," he said.
Bypassing the limited commercial products available, Oliverius and others tasked with finding a solution followed up on a suggestion.
The crew of Engine 3 asked for ideas from Innovation Studio, billed as a place "where creators of all sorts can share ideas, tools and knowledge."
Max Wheeler, an instructional designer at Innovation Studio, said it isn't unusual for a unique problem to land at Nebraska Innovation Campus in search of an answer.
"Usually we try to connect those people who come to us with a specific problem with someone in our community who is an expert to work with those groups," Wheeler said.
Those individuals don't always show up unannounced in a firetruck, however.
Needing a quick turnaround, as well as a hand skilled in computer-assisted design and 3D printing, Wheeler, a 2013 University of Nebraska-Lincoln mechanical engineering graduate, pledged to tackle the project himself.
He took photos of the existing cases and borrowed a video laryngoscope from LFR to build and print a prototype at the studio.
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After each iteration, Engine 3 firefighters and paramedics were able to test the case and give their feedback to Wheeler, who after several more design rounds created a carrying case that would perform up to LFR's standards.
Settling on a "fairly simple design," Wheeler's video laryngoscope case is a box with a shadow of the tool cut out from it, allowing the instrument to be snugly stowed away without bouncing around.
It also features a pair of finger holds that allow the paramedics to quickly retrieve it from their bags without fumbling, Wheeler explained.
Innovation Studio printed nine of the cases — each using $30 of polylactic acid, a plastic substitute made from cornstarch and used in about 95 percent of 3D-printed applications — and donated them to EMS crews across Lincoln.
They will go into service with frontline medics in the near future.
Oliverius said the finished product, which can be submerged when disinfecting the laryngoscope, will aid EMS workers in their goal of improving efficiency and safety in administering flexible plastic tubes into the tracheas of patients who have suffered cardiac or respiratory trauma.
"Anything we can do to make our jobs more efficient in return is better for every citizen who needs 911 service," he said.
Marking the first collaboration between LFR and Innovation Studio a success, Oliverius said there are no immediate plans to manufacture any other specialized pieces of equipment needed by firefighter-paramedics.
But, he said, if a future equipment problem arises, they have a good idea of where to turn.
"It might be a cliché," Oliverius said. "But I really think the possibilities there are limitless."