Decoding Design

New trauma shears cut through the problems for EMTs

New trauma shears cut through the problems for EMTs

Posting in Design

After carefully vetting a range of materials and blade designs, an emergency room doctor and a Sandia Labs engineer have reinvented the essential tool for first responders: trauma shears.

I used to share an office with a industrial designer who specialized in medical tools. The walls were filled with models of implements that looks completely space-age yet old-world. They had a bit of a Steam Punk flair to them.

Many looked not unlike the new trauma shears developed by Albuquerque startup Héros.

Trauma shears are indispensable for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They're the first tool many first responders use to access an injury.

They make it look pretty easy and fast in the movies, cutting through a pant leg or suit coat to reveal a gnarly gash or bullet hole. But in reality, the tools aren't always up to the task of tearing through tough materials such as denim and leather -- or even ballistic nylon and heavy plastic. “They are imprecise and made of cheap, shoddy materials with a blade that dulls quickly,” said Scott Forman, an emergency room physician and CEO of Héros, said in a press release. “People just throw them away.”

Forman (left) and Reece compare their new shears to common shears (left).

After tinkering on the idea for years, Forman applied for a patent and started a company in 2008, with the goal of producing 1,000 pairs of the shears. Demand was strong among the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) within Forman's New Mexico network, but Forman knew he'd need a partner to scale up the business. He joined the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) Program, which pairs entrepreneurs with scientists at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.  He was paired with Mark Reece, an engineer in Sandia’s Multiscale Metallurgical Science & Technology group.

Reece studied and tested various blade designs, materials and ergonomic configurations, casting a wide net during research.

“I drew in material on everything from hairstylists to fabric manufacturers and tried to assemble a picture of what was going on here,” he said. “I got out the microscope and video camera and examined what happens as each blade attempts to cut fabric.”

Eventually the pair came up with base-model shears that have an ambidextrous handle and an integrated carabiner, which hooks onto the EMT's belt to make them handy. The blade length and handle pivot point are engineered to generate considerable torque, so less effort is needed for heavy cutting. The blades are high carbon content surgical stainless steel that can be autoclaved (sterilized for medical use).

“Mark is excessively meticulous," said Forman. "He created the pitch of this blade, the troughs between the serrations, the angulations of the serrations and pitch of the other blade — the nonserrated side — to create shears that can cut through everything."

But wait, there's more. The shears also have a ripper attachment with a replaceable blade to zip through clothing -- think of a seam ripper in a sewing kit, but this one is extremely burly -- a bottle opener for medications (and post-work brews?), a key for oxygen tanks and a window punch.

The finished product costs more than your standard issue trauma shears -- $20 to $60 versus $5 to $10 -- but EMTs are likely to find the difference in cost well worth the ease of use, durability and long life of the Héros shears.

Via: Sandia National Lab

Images: Randy Montoya

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure