By Edward “Eddie” Rice
Knowing that in an emergency, elevators are turned off and fire departments a) usually don’t know where persons with disabilities are in the building and b) may take a long while to rescue them, New Yorker David Egen, took the matter into his own hands and invented a multi-purpose evacuation chair for his wife Maureen, a Polio Survivor.
That was 1982. Today, Egen’s chair is manufactured in the UK and is available to help others worldwide. I found it astonishing, considering the number of years that his system has been available, that its lifesaving capability isn’t common knowledge and that is hasn’t become required by law in any types of high-rise building.
In doing my research, I discovered that when asked about leaving their workplace or place of residence many people said, “we will wait for the fire department.” This, in my opinion, this is not an effective solution as many of us are at risk and time is critical during emergencies.
Statistics show that over 6,000,000 people have disabilities in Canada and the number could be much higher, as one in five have a form of disability. Approximately 30,000 structural fires occur per year, with over 370 deaths and 3,000 resulting injuries. An evacuation can take from one to three hours and is considerably longer than fire drills suggest.
I also learned that the installation of ‘personal emergency evacuation plans’, known as PEEPs, is in fact, not a building code requirement anywhere in Canada, (it is in all LTC Homes in California). Stay put protocols and waiting for fire department are the usual recommendations by the department, but unfortunately this is often not a viable solution in an emergency.
Of note, Egen’s Evac+Chair was pivotal during the 9/11 attack and considered instrumental in saving lives at the World Trade Center. One particular man’s life was saved from the 69th Floor and the lifesaving device is now on display in the 9/11 Museum.
My Canadians with Disabilities subcommittee of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights is now working to promote the use and regulation of these life saving devices as a mandatory part of the Ontario Building Code.
If you wish to help, please email the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibilities to amend the building code to include these evacuation systems.
Edward “Eddie” Rice is a polio survivor and a retired prosthetist. He uses his medical and mechanical expertise to take on all areas of accessibility. Rice is the chairman of Canadians with Disabilities – Sub Committee of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights. For more information of these live saving devices visit www.evac-chair.