I’m sure that the interested audience for the new Ferno iN/X “power stretcher” was smaller at FDIC 2014 than it would have been if it were released in time for the EMS Today conference earlier this year. But maybe that was a good thing for me because, even though the booth was still crowded, I got to spend some “quality time” with this stretcher and thought it would be worth posting my impressions here. There were several things I wanted to confirm for myself after watching the announcement videos, but what ended up surprising me most were several other innovative features I didn’t even expect to see.
My first concern was all about weight. I was curious about how much this unit weighed and more importantly how much would I have to hold when it is loaded with a patient. But now to be honest, I still have no idea what the unit weight is since I never had to actually “lift” anything – the unit really did at all the work. Even loaded with a Ferno sales rep as a simulated patient, I never had to hold any of the weight with my back or legs. The front and/or rear wheels operate either together or independently using a simple set of only two buttons (“+” or “-”) and the application of a little pressure. When the weight is basically even, the stretcher raises or lowers horizontally. When loading it on to a simulated ambulance floor, the stretcher can be raised above the floor level (to a preset height) moved into the rig and lowered until the wheels of the head end touch the ambulance floor removing just enough pressure to cause the forward axle to automatically lift during the lowering process. A red laser on the stretcher shows a line on the rig’s floor to let you know when it is far enough forward for the total weight to be distributed between three sets of wheels already inside. The design of the X-shaped frame allows the stretcher to be pushed forward past the mid-line balance point where the weight is held on the floor and my effort is to simply “balance”, not “hold” the load while the axle at the foot-end is raised. At this point, the stretcher is rolled completely inside without that extra “bump” I experience with the current stretchers used at my service. A middle set of wheels have an added feature that allow them to pivot in order to more easily align the stretcher if it is not inserted correctly and eliminates any further jostling of the patient. The locking receiver is unique to Ferno, but backward compatible to accept stretchers of another make or model. What is different about the Ferno receiver is that it charges the stretcher battery whenever it is locked in place during transport.
But rolling a stretcher around a showroom floor is different than the obstacles I normally face navigating a yard or home. This was simulated at FDIC with various barriers. To navigate them, the medic at either end where the axle needs to raised, will simply “pull up” on his end while the “-” button is held in order for the sensor to intelligently lift the end with less pressure until the button is released. The sensing mechanism allows for unique changes in height to be navigated even with just these two simple buttons. I also appreciate that the handles on the foot end can extend to allow my hands to operate directly at my sides for good posture and body mechanics.
There is an LCD display that gives operational cues and battery status along with a few extra buttons. These buttons turn on lights beneath the stretcher to illuminate dark hallways or turn on lights along the side rails for extra lighting. At the scene of a night-time traffic accident, the side rails can also alternate red and white flashing lights for extra visibility to motorists and improve my own safety.
Some specific “feedback” I had prepared was a complaint about the lack of “side rails” like I am accustomed to using, but heard that options are currently in development. In the meantime, I began to understand that instead of ‘flip up side rails’, the Ferno design uses ‘fold down arm rests’ that also lock in outward angling positions to accommodate (and help secure) bariatric patients. Further, the straps are not just the traditional cross waist, cross legs and cross chest, but a full 5 point style harness to no only keep the patient centered but also secure when laying flat if the ambulance should have a sudden stop (such as an accident.) While it is clearly equipped for safety, there was no compromise in functionality since the shoulder straps attached low enough in the front to avoid being in the way if CPR was required.
Finally, if all that was not enough to impress me, I saw how to quickly attach an optional monitor shelf between the foot rails to keep the monitor secure, visible, and conveniently ‘attached’ to the patient during transport. The same attachment design on the rails for this feature is also used for attaching optional IV poles or even the future “side rails” (if I decide that I still need them.) Of course there were other small details as well that showed that the designers were either practicing medics themselves or that they at least listened closely to the feedback of field providers who use stretchers like these in the field daily. I was thoroughly impressed and not only hope to get the chance to use one for real soon, I am now even more dissatisfied with what I currently use since I have come home from the show.