Dura 4 spineboard (1983)

COMMENTARY FOR DESIGN STUDENTS

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During a Coast Guard rescue on Lake Erie, a victim with a suspected spinal injury was immobilized at the scene and strapped securely to the board. He was transported to a waiting ambulance, then to a regional hospital where he was diagnosed and taken immediately into surgery, remaining immoblized on the Dura 4 spineboard the entire time.

This project started as Richard Brault's 4th year thesis project at Carleton University and became Studio Innova’s first entrepreneurial initiative.

At the time of its introduction, the Dura 4 represented a radical departure from the conventional plywood spineboards.

The Dura 4 featured neoprene harnesses that adjusted quickly to accommodate adults and children, while providing secure immobilization of the head and spine, and clearance for adjunct items such as splints, cervical collars, sand bags.

The fiberglass board was buoyant, transparent to xrays and CT scans. The bold colour scheme, graphics and streamlined shape gave the board a professional look with high visibility. A United States Patent was granted in 1985.

COMMENTARY FOR DESIGN STUDENTS

- Richard Brault

The Canadian Coast Guard (Central Region) needed to replace the plywood spineboards on their search and rescue zodiac boats in the Great Lakes. They were informed of my thesis project through John Blaicher at the Lifesaving Society in Toronto. (John acted as a technical advisor on the thesis).

After reviewing our prototype, the CG asked if Dianne and I could adjust the design to meet certain performance requirements. Within a couple of months, a new prototype was developed, tested, approved and a purchase order was issued for 15 boards. We were in business.

For the next few months we worked at night and on weekends preparing drawings, sourcing hardware, meeting with vendors. During my fourth year at Carleton, I was fortunate to meet Harvey Ducourneau and Randy Brown at Fibron Manufacturing, a small custom sailboat builder in Ottawa. Harvey built the prototypes and Fibron evenutally manufactured the fiberglass boards.

On April 29th, the eve of the Coast Guard delivery deadline, Randy delivered the 15 fiberglass boards from Ottawa and for the better part of the night Dianne and I installed the hardware and harnesses in our living room, in time for the next day’s delivery deadline.

In June the Coast Guard invited us to provide in-service training to their rescue personel before deploying the boards to the zodiacs. Then at the end of the season we returned inspect and carry out some minor repairs. Ouch... We couldn’t believe the abuse the boards had suffered in a few short months of service. Harnesses were torn, tattered and tangled. Boards were chipped and scratched. We had no idea of the extreme conditions they’d be exposed to and it was a humbling episode for us as two young designers to have our feet firmly planted into the ground by the real world.

Fifteen boards were produced for the Coast Guard and approximately 50 were sold to municipal swimming pools across Canada. The boards were manufactured in Ottawa by Fibron Manufacturing (they had help me with the the harnesses were made in Toronto and the final assembly took place in our downtown Toronto apartment.

Like all budding entrepreneurs, we had high hopes for the Dura 4. Dianne and I were offered the opportunity to exhibit the board at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston Texas. Given our small success with the Coast Guard, we felt there could be potential for the product on offshore drilling platforms and this was a key trade show.

With John Blaicher’s credit card (we didn’t have one), we rented a chevy wagon, loaded up a small display and drove 27 hours non-stop to Houston with our colleague John Muir. For three days, we gave demonstrations, generated a fair amount of interest but failed to secure any orders. However, the trip proved worthwhile in other ways. We continued our research and development and shortly afterwards, began designing the Dura 5.

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