After experiencing excruciating back pain during a patient extraction in a narrow hallway, Brian Bandel knew there had to be a better way. He and his father Garry invented The WauK board to rescue supine patients while preventing back injuries to the first responders. The elder Bandel shared his thoughts in an email interview.
Where did your company name originate from?
Our founder (and my son), Brian Bandel, works for the Waukegan Fire Department. WauK board is short for Waukegan and a play on the word "walk". Because of its uniqueness it has also allowed us to register "WauK" as a trademark.
What was the inspiration behind starting your company?
Brian and his crew were on a call for a full arrest. They walked into a small house that was not built to code and had multiple families living there. A team of 5 firefighters and paramedics tried moving a 300+ lb. patient around a tight corner and could only utilize two personnel since the hallway was so narrow. The resulting back pain was his main motivator – and he thought there should be an easier way to do this operation. Thus, he invented the Wauk board.
Why do you believe your products are essential to the EMS community?
Our product is designed to prevent back injuries to first responders and extend their careers. It allows them to rescue a boarded (supine) patient by rolling the patient instead of carrying the patient. It is the only self-contained product on the market that addresses rescuing a supine patient in tight spaces or down stairs that doesn't involve carrying the patient.
What has been the biggest challenge your company has faced?
There have been many big challenges, but two come to mind as the biggest.
First, getting our patent approved took four years and involved overturning the original rejection of the patent office. Without patent protection we would not have been able to maintain our uniqueness in the marketplace.
Second was deciding to manufacture and market the product ourselves after we spent two years trying to convince major backboard manufacturers to license our product. Licensing would have required someone else to arrange for the manufacture and marketing of the WauK board. Once we decided to do this on our own, we had to find a manufacturer who could engineer and manufacture the WauK board and we had to find distributors willing to market and sell it. We have been successful on both accounts. Our manufacturer, Granger Plastics, is a world-class rotational molder and their president, Jim Cravens, does the engineering and design work. Without Jim, there is no WauK board.
What do your customers like best about you and your products?
Without a doubt, our customers have loved discovering that the WauK board has a self-contained footrest, permanently mounted wheels and 500 lb. capacity. Anyone who has ever rescued a patient by carrying them on a backboard or stretcher immediately recognizes the benefit of a self-contained dolly. Many times we hear "that's so obvious, how come no one else has invented that?" and "I could have used that last week when..."
What is the most rewarding part of serving the first responder community?
Every person affected by back injury represents someone Brian might know on the job. Back injuries can put professionals out of work for months, years and even permanently. Their quality of life is decreased and their families are affected. To us, it's personal.
Is there any fun fact or trivia that you’d like to share with our users about you or your company?
We also market the WauK board to the funeral service industry. Earlier this year we were making a video that demonstrates how to remove a deceased body from the second story of a house. I was the deceased. The funeral director (FD) we were working with and my son Brian played the FD and assistant. The FD backed his service vehicle into our driveway, opened the rear hatch, and he and Brian proceeded to remove me from the second floor using the WauK board with a body bag attached. I was zipped up in the body bag during this photo shoot. Meanwhile, our neighbor across the street drove by, saw the activity, and noticed the "FD" on the license plates. By the time she reached the supermarket (1 mile away) she was in tears and on the phone with her husband. “Do you know what's happening at Garry's house?” she asked, to which he replied, “Yes, they’re making a video!”
What’s next for your company? Any upcoming projects or initiatives?
We’ve received many great suggestions from the EMS and Fire Service communities. We now have two versions -- each requiring its own mold -- of the WauK board; the standard size and the compact version. The smaller size allows the WauK board to fit into smaller ambulances. The next near term modification will be to develop the Ultra Compact version -- smaller yet -- to accommodate ambulances with even smaller backboard compartments.
Longer term we will develop an outdoor version that will have all-terrain wheels and greater ground clearance to facilitate use in outdoor settings.
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