Nicknamed “Air Ninjas” or “Air Jedi” by the facilities manager for one of their clients, Bucks County’s Jennifer Lohr and her colleagues are helping to fight the war against the spread of COVID-19.
Lohr works for Fisher Balancing Company, of Williamstown N.J., most recently turning regular ICU hospital rooms into negative pressure rooms to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the illness known as COVID-19.
“We just make sure more air is going out of the room than into the room,” the Wrightstown Township resident said, adding the rooms first have to be re-ducted so the contaminated air is expelled from the building, rather than filtered and returned through the system. “My firm is just a testing and balancing firm,” she said, adding it does not do the duct work.
Lohr, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19, said the air supply in a hospital room normally goes through a HEPA filter and UV lights before entering so that it is clean from the outside. In the case of a negative pressure room, which also is used for other infectious diseases, more air is expelled from the room and the infectious air is filtered and expelled outdoors.
The infectious air goes through a Hepa filter and a UV light, which should kill everything, before being released outside, Lohr said. To make certain that filtered air is not inhaled by people, it is released through venting on the roof and up another 20 feet, approximately, where people can’t breathe it in, she said.
“Controlling the circulation pressure and air flow in hospital rooms can prevent the unnecessary spread of COVID-19 and other contagions – any airborne contagion,” Lohr said.
Lohr said Fisher Balancing services many of the hospitals in the Philadelphia and South Jersey region, including Bucks County, but she isn’t permitted to specify. She said she performs her work at hospitals in Philadelphia.
“Since the very beginning, it’s one of our basic things that we do,” Lohr said referring to testing and balancing the air pressure for hospital isolation rooms every six months. The 39-year-old married mother of one son said she learned on the job, and through a four and a half year apprenticeship.
Lohr had planned to become a teacher, but graduated from college at a time when jobs in education were scarce, she said. Her father was a steamfitter who had tried to get Lohr and her siblings to join the local, but they weren’t interested – at first. Eventually Lohr and her younger sister, Lisa, did join. Her other sister and brother forged their own paths, one as a musician, the other as a midwife.
“I was willing to take a leap of faith on that one,” said Lohr, who trained as a sheet metal worker.
Her job as an air balancer, and that of her colleagues, involves evaluating systems in areas of the hospital to determine whether they are capable, or whether they need modification.
They work with the hospitals to bring in other trades to install ductwork, Hepa filters and UV lights, and then the balancer and controls contractor work together to create the negative pressure and ensure there is enough air for the ventilation that’s needed.
“Each patient room will have its own controls,” Lohr said, adding they are part of the building automation system.
In addition to creating negative pressure rooms, Lohr and her colleagues also create positive pressure rooms – for bone marrow transplant patients and surgical suites.
Lohr said the nickname of “Air Ninja” or “Air Jedi” came from a hospital facilities manager who said he could tell Lohr and her colleagues had been there by seeing that something was fixed, even though he never saw them. It was a funny term that stuck, she said.
In an effort to make sure she doesn’t pass any novel coronavirus along to her husband, Christian, and son, Logan, 6, Lohr said, she created a sterilizer out of a Rubbermaid container by placing a UV light inside it.
She places her phone, laptop and safety goggle inside the sterilizer box and turns the light on to kill any traces of the virus; she takes her clothing off in the garage, runs into the shower and launders her clothing, utilizing the sanitizer feature on her washing machine. She doesn’t allow her son to come near her until she is clean, she said.
Lohr said her company is a tight-knit one, and she credits all of her colleagues for putting themselves out there to get this work done.
“We’ve trained for it our whole career,” she said. “But we never expected to see a pandemic.”