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Redefining rescue with Evac+Chair

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Nathaniel Thomas-Hall, Head of Product Development, tells how Evac+Chair has transformed emergency evacuation through innovative design, inclusivity, a deep commitment to safety

Could you share a bit about your journey and current role at Evac+Chair?

I began my journey with Evac+Chair in 2018.

The company’s vision, innovative ideas, and profound commitment to issues such as inclusivity and accessibility, deeply resonated with me.

During my first three years, I delved deeply into comprehending the core of our products and actively contributed to pioneering developments.

This dedication culminated in my promotion to the role of Head of Product Research and Development.

Subsequently, we’ve notably expanded our Product R&D team and invested in people across the business.

This commitment to investing in our people, is central to our future growth and ensuring we provide our customers with an industry leading customer experience.

What initially attracted you to the field of emergency evacuation and safety solutions?


My passion for the field of emergency evacuation and safety solutions is deeply rooted in my core values, which revolve around inclusivity, collaboration, and conscientious design.

These values are fundamental pillars at Evac+Chair, empowering us to create transformative products.

Designing life safety solutions presents a demanding, yet immensely rewarding challenge.

The personal satisfaction and pride I derive from this aspect of my work is extraordinary; it’s not often that product engineers have the opportunity to directly impact life preservation, a responsibility often associated with medical professionals.

Our products make a tangible impact on emergency survival chances, which became personally significant for me during a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York.

There, I learned about John Abruzzo, who was saved during the 9/11 attacks using an Evac+Chair.

This experience underscored the potential of our solutions to save lives and the importance of emergency preparedness.

Another interesting aspect in this field is Evac+Chair’s commitment to UK-based manufacturing specifically in the West Midlands, with raw materials and labour sourced locally.

Being able to witness the entire design process, from inception to production and dispatch, is something I deeply value.

It’s gratifying to be part of a company that maintains such a strong dedication to UK manufacturing, investment in state-of-the-art design and production methods, to achieve the highest quality standards.

Can you tell us about the initial challenges and breakthroughs in designing the first Evac+Chair?

The genesis of the first Evac+Chair dates back to 1982, invented by David Egan.

He ingeniously merged principles from three distinct products: a cart, a chair, and a stretcher.

This novel combination of elements, which might seem straightforward today, was a significant innovation at the time.

Together with Barry Scholes, who was based in the UK, and owned a manufacturing facility developing and designing paraplegic aids, they collaborated and tackled various design and engineering challenges, leading to the creation of the world’s first Evac+Chair.

A key challenge they faced was ensuring the chair was intuitive to use, therefore reducing chances of misuse.

The design required simplicity, with no need for installation.

It was crucial that in high-stress emergency situations, trained individuals could quickly and competently operate the Evac+Chair to safely evacuate someone.

Even 40 years later, while we’ve made numerous modifications and enhancements, the original design DNA remains strongly embedded within the Evac+Chair.

The consistency in its design philosophy is evident when comparing the original and current models’ side by side – the foundational principles are still clearly visible and integral to the product’s lifecycle.

How has the Evac+Chair evolved over the years in terms of design and functionality?

Over the years, we’ve meticulously refined almost every aspect of the Evac+Chair, focusing on both subtle and significant improvements.

We’ve become particularly stringent in our material selection, emphasising both strength and sustainability.

The chair’s geometry has been adjusted to better support the centre of mass, facilitating an improvement in the overall operation of the chair.

We evaluate and enhance the chair’s materials through ongoing continuous improvements’, exploring alternatives that could offer additional customer benefits.

We strive to offer customers the versatility required to meet their needs, ensuring the chair is resilient enough to reach a refuge point without enduring excessive damage.

These improvements are informed by customer feedback and the need to adapt to an ever-changing world, ensuring that the Evac+Chair remains the leading solution in emergency evacuation.

In what ways does Evac+Chair maintain its high standards of quality and safety in its products?

As the leading UK manufacturer of evacuation chairs, our 40+ years of expertise have provided us with a deep understanding of Evac+Chair functionality and operation.

This knowledge is evident in our meticulous inspection process, conducted on every chair before it departs our facility.

Our dedicated quality assurance team examines each evacuation chair, upholding our commitment to producing top-tier products.

Additionally, we have constructed a purpose-designed staircase at our headquarters, crafted to meet British regulations.

This staircase enables us to replicate the most demanding stair angles and nosing’s encountered in real-world situations, providing an extra level of assurance to our manufacturing, design, and assembly processes.

We uphold our commitment to quality and safety through various accreditations, including ISO 9001 Quality Management standards, ISO 13485 Medical Device Quality and TÜV NORD certification.

These standards are integrated into all design and manufacturing processes at our UK headquarters.

How has Evac+Chair adapted its products to meet the diverse needs of individuals with different mobility issues?

Over the years, Evac+Chair has expanded its product range and introduced various accessories to cater to a diverse market.

For example, we’ve developed a ‘Comfy Seat’, an accessory designed to provide additional support for individuals with varying levels of mobility impairment.

This reflects just one of the many adjustments we’ve implemented to address evolving needs.

We pride ourselves on offering the widest range of evacuation chairs globally, with solutions for virtually every staircase configuration, including spiral, straight, and narrow stairs.

Our motto, ‘If there’s a stair, we’re there,’ encapsulates our commitment to providing a suitable evacuation solution for any scenario.

With our accumulated knowledge, we’re in a strong position to address the unique challenges faced by the diverse range of people we serve.

This commitment to inclusivity and versatility is a cornerstone of our approach to product development.

What future innovations or developments can we expect from Evac+Chair?

Evac+Chair is committed to the future of UK design and manufacturing, driving the future of the evacuation chair market, and providing new solutions to our customers challenges.

This commitment has been supported with the relocation to a larger state-of-the-art facility in the West Midlands.

Our new HQ has enabled us to invest in lean manufacturing, people and supporting the future growth of the business.

Our focus isn’t just limited to expanding our team; we’re also keen on adopting more inclusive strategies.

This includes enhancing our wide product range through ongoing communication with our customers.

By understanding the evolving challenges faced by our operators, we aim to ensure that our innovations stay ahead of the curve, meeting both current and future needs in emergency evacuation solutions.

How has the global perspective on emergency evacuation changed, and how does Evac+Chair fit into this narrative?

At present, the UK and US spearhead product awareness and education, yet other global markets are steadily closing the gap.

Emergency evacuation solutions are gaining paramount significance for businesses worldwide, underscoring the obligation to inform and prepare individuals.

Sustaining efforts to educate about the existence and significance of these life-saving products remains critical.

This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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