Modern stretcher design has benefited immensely from a century or more of thought and material development to produce the rescue devices of today. From the early wooden poles with a canvas support we have seen sturdy wrapped stretchers for hoisting up from the deep, baskets, cradles and chairs all conceived to move the patient from danger and improved lighter materials that make it easier to arrive on site better prepared.
The designs that most influenced the current crop of stretchers are the baskets. Using lightweight aluminium tubing meant that portable and secure cradles could be manufactured to safely transport the injured. Many of today’s tubular designs employ strong stainless steel tubing, which along with its flexibility in manufacture and weight does not suffer the rigours of rusting.
The second significant development came with the invention of fibreglass and injection moulded plastics. The basket stretchers currently on the market make great use of the polyethylene shell. It is a strong, durable base on which a patient lies, waterproof and able to survive the knocks when used in demanding environments.
The tubing construction and moulded plastic shells come into their own with collapsible and break-away stretchers that are deployed when rescuers are required to undertake lengthy journeys on foot. They are straightforward to assemble and their natural properties give an immensely sturdy platform on which to support the injured person.
These two materials form the basis for many of the stretchers used daily around the world. They make adaptable litters that come equipped with anchor points for attaching hoist slings or additional strapping to secure casualties. They can be fitted with backboards and neck braces to support people with spine or head injuries and special face guards can be attached to protect the casualty from falling debris.
The simplicity of the first Furley stretchers has proved to be an enduring design and despite the passage of time the basic design principles are still in use today. Modern Furley stretchers have replaced the wooden poles with anodised aluminium or stainless steel tubing.
The rough canvas support has also evolved and now manufacturers use vinyl coated nylon instead but essentially the look is still the same as it was when Sir John Furley first conceived of it. The main difference is in their weight with the modern stretchers weighing on average half that of the original designs.
Technological advances and material discoveries have given us stronger, more durable stretchers but in essence they still have many of the features and design elements of those stretchers created by rescue pioneers almost a century ago.