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  Industrial Design Students Develop Rescue Device
Publicado - Published: 13/03/2008

VIRGINIA (Kerry O'Connor, CT News).- Flood safety acted as the inspiration for four College of Architecture and Urban Studies students who created a swift-water victim-transport harness used for victims of flood injuries.

They were able to test their design in both the War Memorial and McComas pool facilities.

The HydroSpine harness was created by senior industrial design majors Liz Varnerin, Kyle Schumaker and Matt Zacherle, as well as Tech alumnus and industrial design major Brian Sandifer, as a class assignment in a fourth-year industrial design studio that focused on disaster solutions.

"We definitely got some really weird looks," Varnerin said. "This lady came over to us and said 'uh, what are you doing?' because we had somebody in the pool with foam duct taped to their body."

The group of students began thinking about flood situations and decided to come up with a product to assist the rescue process. The HydroSpine is designed to address a serious problem: neck and spinal injuries are the most difficult to handle because further movement of the neck or spine could result in long-term injuries.

"Any time you're dealing with flood water, you're dealing with moving water with tremendous amounts of power," said George Lewis, a swift-water rescue instructor and owner of Rescue3 Virginia in Front Royal. "Usually, you're then dealing with trauma. After checking the ABCs (airway, breathing, and circulation), the first thing we check is cervical spine control."

The team went to Front Royal to watch Lewis instruct a boat operation class and obtain more knowledge of the rescuers' job. Schumaker actually participated in the class, while the others watched to find ways they could improve their prototype.

"We never expected the feedback we got," Varnerin said. "When we brought it to Front Royal, that's when we realized we really had something going for us."

Other research included a survey sent to swift-water rescuers, trend analysis, and a group interview with Lewis and one of his classes.

This research led to a product that Lewis said was extremely necessary in his line of work. The HydroSpine improves on existing harnesses that do not float and become heavier when wet. The harness self-rights unconscious victims face-up, requires fewer steps to secure the victim in the harness, and has properly placed straps so rescuers can check the victim's vital signs.

"When they came to us asking what we needed and presenting their idea, we told them that's exactly what we need," Lewis said. "An exportation device with spinal mobilization and flotation."

The HydroSpine also contains no metal, allowing hospitals to run tests on the victim without removing the harness, which could potentially cause further injury.

Because of their success, the students were invited to the National Association of Search and Rescue Conference to present their product this May. The conference will host many important people in the area of swift-water rescue as well as six different countries.

"When they first approached us with ideas, it sounded like a great thing, but you never expected to see such a great final project," said Lt. Philip Miller of the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue, who also worked alongside Lewis to help improve the product. "It far surpassed anything we expected."

Working with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, the students are attempting to obtain a patent on the HydroSpine.

"I think it's great." Lewis said. "It's better than inventing a Wii game or something like that."

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