Kohlers response to 9/11 results in mobile showers

by Robert P. Mader of CONTRACTORs staff KOHLER, WIS. An entirely new line of business has developed out of Kohler Co.s response to the events of last Sept. 11. Kohler Mobile Plumbing Systems, a division of Kohler Co., has introduced a line of custom decontamination showering units, plus units for industrial use, a model for large public venues such as festivals and a luxury line. The first mobile

by Robert P. Mader

of CONTRACTOR’s staff

KOHLER, WIS. — An entirely new line of business has developed out of Kohler Co.’s response to the events of last Sept. 11. Kohler Mobile Plumbing Systems, a division of Kohler Co., has introduced a line of custom decontamination showering units, plus units for industrial use, a model for large public venues such as festivals and a luxury line.

The first mobile showering unit was sent to Ground Zero for fire and rescue personnel last September.

“I was in design review on that Thursday after Sept. 11 looking at new shower designs and that’s when the idea popped into my head,” said Jeremy Knopow, general manager of Kohler Mobile Plumbing Systems.

Knopow made a formal proposal the following Friday and spent the weekend brainstorming with Kohler’s plumbers, carpenters and electricians. All thought that the idea was workable. Nearly 150 people spent the next four days around the clock building the first mobile showering unit inside a semitrailer, which was immediately sent to New York City.

The response, Knopow said, was, “Why hasn’t anyone done this before?”

Because the cleanup at Ground Zero involved fire and rescue personnel from all over the country, requests for similar units poured in. After the company launched the Web site for the mobile system in June, Kohler received 450 inquiries.

The unit built for Ground Zero contained nine showers, six for men and three for women based on what the Red Cross told Kohler would be a proper ratio. Electric instant water heaters in the walls supply each shower module. Incoming water came through a fire hose and was drained into the closest sewer. The floor was raised 12 in. to allow for proper pitch of the drain lines. The behind-the-wall plumbing was standard copper manifolds.

Each module contained a 48-in.-by-30-in. Sonata FRP shower module and a 30-in. changing area. The hallway, decorated with drawings for the firefighters by children from Kohler Elementary School, was 30-in. wide.

The Ground Zero unit also contained two Bolero stainless steel oval lavs with Fairfax faucets at either end.

Kohler’s new decontamination unit was designed cooperatively with the U.S. Army’s Biological Task Force. Emergency workers told Kohler that they often use a child’s wading pool and a garden hose to clean themselves.

Kohler’s six-step decontamination process includes an external mass decontamination area, decontamination entrance, disrobing room, private showering station, dressing room and clean exit area. To further minimize contamination, a positive flow of HEPA-filtered, heated or air-conditioned air continuously moves from the clean end of the trailer to the contaminated area.

Kohler’s wide-body mobile decontamination trailers range in size from 24-ft. bumper-pull trailers up to 53-ft. semitrailers and can house up to six private decontamination showering lanes for rescue, industrial, military and civilian uses. All the decontamination trailers are designed with double airlocks at each end and contain three airtight, segmented rooms separated by heavy-gauge stainless steel doors.

The decontamination entrance at the rear of the trailer features stainless steel, single-basin rinsing sinks and touchless faucets and eyewash stations.

In the disrobing room individuals remove contaminated clothing, place it into racked plastic bags that are dropped down a self-sealing chute and into a sealed undercarriage compartment. The locked compartment is accessed from the trailer’s exterior and can store helmets and boots as well. The disrobing room features a hand shower that delivers both a decontamination cleaning agent and hot water.

The private showering area includes two banks of wall-mounted body sprays; a hand shower that delivers hot water and a decontamination cleaning agent; and an oversized, ceiling-mounted showerhead. Instant water heaters provide a continuous supply of hot water. Fresh water is derived from a sub-floor holding tank that can hold up to 2,200 gal. Gray water, likewise, can go into a holding tank for future decontamination and proper disposal.

Individuals dress in private dressing rooms that contain ample storage for clean towels and clothing. Undercarriage storage is positioned directly below the dressing rooms to hold additional towels, filters and other supplies.

Individuals exit from a vestibule at the front of the trailer on the opposite side from where they entered.

An on-board Kohler generator provides all the electricity required to operate the mobile trailers. Positioned within the supply room at the front of the trailer, these single-phase, 10-kW to 25-kW generators can run on diesel, natural gas or propane. Users can also hook up to a fixed supply of electricity on-site. Located within this room are cleaning supplies, filters and the instant water heaters.

Kohler has developed mobile showering trailers for large public venues such as concerts, festivals and sporting events, plus a luxury line.

“The thought is that if we make plumbing fixtures in this range, why not make mobile showers covering the same range?” Knopow said. “It’s a good fit to what we know how to do.”