Thursday, May 17, 2012

ECBC's "Hard to Fit Program” Finds Correct Fitting Mask Solutions for the Warfighter

When it comes to masking and special equipment for the Warfighter, one size does not always fit all. Some servicemen and women need custom tailored clothing and equipment, and not having that equipment can cost opportunities and even jobs. Cindy Learn, an engineer with Edgewood Chemical Biological Center Protection Engineering Divison's Joint Service Respirator Sustainment and Test Technology Branch, recalls comforting a distraught servicewoman over the phone when her deployment was in jeopardy because of an ill-fitting mask.

“The standard protective mask did not fit the small frame of her face,” Learn said. “A Warfighter cannot be deployed without a mask that fits properly and securely to the face.”
Thanks to the Hard to Fit program, rejuvenated by Learn and others in her branch, that same servicewoman was able to obtain a protective mask specially adjusted to fit her face just in time for deployment.

“I remember her being so grateful we were able to help her get the right mask,” Learn said. “Many do not realize there are infinite different shapes and sizes of faces, and having a protective mask that fits well is essential to any deployable mission. Not being able to get your hands on the right fitting mask could be a career ender for some.”


No Warfighter Left Behind

With a team motto of “No Warfighter left behind,” members of the Hard to Fit Program make it their mission to ensure all deployable personnel have the correct-sized mask. Hard to Fit is a G-8 funded program housed within ECBC’s Protection Engineering Division. The program fits members of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as civilians who have mask requirements for their jobs.

Learn said current mask styles are designed to fit up to 95 percent of users, while the most current masks are designed for as many as 98 percent. The Hard to Fit program targets the remainder who need special-fit equipment to make a difference for their country. According to Learn, the group fit 100 people in 2011 and has fit 30 so far in 2012.

“Whether the need for a special fit mask is due to natural size or asymmetry, or an injury sustained that may have changed the contour of the face or head, our goal is to fit the user so he or she can be successful in the mission,” Learn said. “We have issued only one Non-Deployable Memorandum since I started working with this program in 2006. We do our best to attain the mask with the best fit for those who need them.”Learn said current mask styles are designed to fit up to 95 percent of users, while the most current masks are designed for as many as 98 percent. The Hard to Fit program targets the remainder who need special-fit equipment to make a difference for their country. According to Learn, the group fit 100 people in 2011 and has fit 30 so far in 2012.

“Whether the need for a special fit mask is due to natural size or asymmetry, or an injury sustained that may have changed the contour of the face or head, our goal is to fit the user so he or she can be successful in the mission,” Learn said. “We have issued only one Non-Deployable Memorandum since I started working with this program in 2006. We do our best to attain the mask with the best fit for those who need them.”

The Hard to Fit Program does not redesign a new mask for the servicemen and women who need fitting. Instead, each mask has removable nose cups and face blank sizes that each come in five and four sizes respectively. The group alters a mask to fit a particular person’s face by mixing and matching these parts. In some cases, the Hard to Fit Program has received approval from the Pentagon to issue masks from the U.K. to people with much smaller faces. The process of fitting and ordering the needed sizes usually takes two to three weeks, but the group is working to accelerate the process. Once a person obtains their mask from Hard to Fit, it is theirs to keep for life.
“Sometimes we get last minute requests from groups who are just about to deploy to come in and fit someone,” said Joint Service Respirator Sustainment and Test Technology Branch Chief Jim Church. “But usually people know before two or three weeks that they will need a different sized mask.”

Organized Solutions

Hard to Fit’s biggest customer base comes from Fort Dix Chemical School in New Jersey because it is a mobilization site and the mask is the last item to be checked before deployment. The program also gets a lot of requests from Fort Leonard Wood Chemical School in Missouri since it is a large training site. Church said the Hard to Fit Program has roots dating back to the late 1970s, when engineers would custom make someone a mask, which took time and money.“Later during Desert Storm in the early 1990s, people who could not be fitted with the M17 mask wore the M40 mask before it actually became the M40,” Church said. “But since Cindy came on board, the program has become more formalized and more visible. I think we are definitely in a place to help more people than we ever were before.”

Church said prior to Learn’s involvement with the program, obtaining a mask with different sized parts was a more disorganized process where the person in need would ask around and whoever they talked to would see what they could find.

“Now, the program partners with TACOM to control the inventory and track usage, while we perform a quality check on all the masks. Improved organization and communication with the Navy, Marines and Army allows the Warfighter access to the mask fit resources available with greater ease and quicker service, so the progress made since 2006 is immense,” Church said.

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