Christopher Knoetig with the MakerBot 3D printers the Knoetigs are using to print N95 face masks for workers on the frontlines of the pandemic
Nashua AFT Members Step Up to Help Essential Workers
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, AFT teachers are displaying their usual matter-of-fact heroism. Take Erin and Christopher Knoetig, AFT members with 36 years of teaching experience between them, who share a classroom in the Career and Technical Education program at Nashua High School North in Nashua, N.H.
Erin and Chris already contribute greatly to their school and community. Erin teaches art education and photography. She is also FEMA-certified in drone search and recovery, and just launched a course in drones technology. Chris, a Head Teacher for the Nashua Technology Center, teaches technology education, including robotics and robot algebra. In his “spare time,” he’s a scuba instructor and emergency first responder instructor.
Now, while still teaching their classes online, and supervising their children’s online education — no mean feat — they’re running a home manufacturing operation in their basement, using 3D printers to create desperately needed N95 face masks for frontline workers and first responders.
As Nashua schools were closing, Chris and his fellow teachers began sharing ideas for 3D face mask printing. “I thought, I have access to this technology, why not use it?” He quickly asked his principal and the district technology center director if he could take home the school’s four ($2,500 apiece) MakerBot 3D printers. “They couldn’t say yes fast enough,” Chris recalls. He set up the printers in the couple’s climate-controlled basement, and — after researching several open-source prototypes — soon settled on a design that takes only three hours to print.
They found high-quality filters at local stores and cut them down to size. To ensure the respirators fit snugly to the wearer’s face, they use foam weather-stripping, custom-cut and glued around the edges of the mask. They average 24 masks a day. Watch Chris assembling a mask in this wonderful home video.
The Nashua Teachers’ Union supported the project from the beginning, donating to buy materials, but most important, using its Facebook page’s 3,000 followers to get the word out. “We shared Erin’s post,” says Adam Marcoux, NTU president, “and people could see they were trusted teachers.” Orders poured in. “We get requests ranging from singletons to 30 or 40,” says Chris. As of this writing, Erin and Chris have printed and assembled 508 masks.
The local newspaper ran a story, and the United Way of Greater Nashua got in touch with Adam. Now the union partners with United Way to distribute the masks. Between the Knoetigs’ outreach and this partnership, the masks have gone to healthcare workers, police officers, daycare workers, ATM maintenance people, and urgent care center workers. Adam says, “The United Way volunteers are wearing the masks our teachers made, to distribute lunches that our NTU members are preparing for children, to 26 spots in the district. It’s like one big circle. We are woven into the community.”
When Nashua High School North junior Kyle Deck heard about this project, he already had three years of 3D printing experience to draw on — in addition to his coursework in computer-aided drafting and design.
“I had read about the problem with the elastic loops hurting the backs of the ears of nurses wearing the ear-loop masks,” Kyle says. He looked around on the web and figured out a way to design and print mask straps out of a flexible material called TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane, for the technically minded), that could hook to the elastic loops and fit around the back of the head. As of May 1, he’d made more than 130 mask straps. The first 50 went to Scripps Hospital in San Diego, where Kyle hopes to attend college at the University of California-San Diego. The second 50 went to the United Way for volunteers. Kyle’s still going strong.
He says, “In the beginning of the shutdown, I wasn’t sure what to do. But then I started thinking about what I can’t do, and what I can do. I figured I’d go all in on the things I can do. And this is helping other people. It just led me to adjust my attitude.”
Asked how he might look back on this time, Kyle reflects, “These things that are happening now will be in our history books for future kids. It’s a kind of test of character for everyone who deals with it.”
Like Kyle, the Knoetigs have values that move them to make a difference. They’re also bound by close ties.
“A lot of this is very personal,” says Erin. “My brother is a part-time Salisbury, Mass., police officer, and Chris’ sister is a lieutenant in the NYPD. Our neighbors are police officers, and another is a nurse. She said that the doctors [at her hospital] had said to just wear a scarf or ‘just put your hand over your mouth.’ ”
Personal protective equipment matters far beyond the workplace. Erin says, “A buddy of ours, Roger, is an NYPD officer who’d been using the same mask for three weeks. Roger and his wife take care of his elderly mom and their two young children. So for him, it was like going into battle without protection, and then coming home and potentially infecting his family.”
It’s Not Just Nashua: Teachers Across The Country Are Pitching In
A Pennsylvania nurse wrote to Chris and Erin, saying, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your protective mask. … I am 1:1 with patients who have contracted the virus. The mask fits perfect! I can even wear my glasses too!” Closer to home, their neighbor’s father owns a funeral home. “They don’t know if the virus stays in the bodies,” Erin says. He got masks.
Erin feels that she and Chris are just one example of how teachers everywhere are pitching in: “Teachers get told that we’re always ‘wanting something for nothing.’ But teachers would give people the shirt off our backs.”
Adam agrees. “People now send me incredibly positive emails about their kids’ teachers. During this time of crisis, we see people turning to the teachers to lead the way.”