As one of the Premier League football clubs committed to complying with the requirements for disabled access set out in Accessible Stadia, Stoke City has chosen stairway evacuation chairs supplied by Evac+Chair to provide safe means of exit for supporters unable to use stairs in an emergency.


The Evac+Chairs are among the new facilities being introduced at Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium as it undergoes its first major re-development since being built in 1997.  The development adds 1,800 seats to capacity and will enable the Premier League club to provide additional and improved viewing for wheelchair users.


Increased provision for disabled supporters was added to permission gained in 2013 for the club to ‘fill the gap’ in the South-East corner of the stadium and lift capacity to over 30,000. 


It was decided to carry out the new development in tandem with improved provision for disabled supporters, particularly wheelchair users, when the Premier League clubs agreed to comply with the requirements of the Sports Grounds and Safety Authority (SGSA) Accessible Stadia document by the deadline of August 2017.


In terms of accessibility, one of the criticisms that had been levelled at a number of clubs was that wheelchair users places suffered poor sight lines because of seats being at pitch level. 


As well as introducing two new high-level disabled bays in the North-East and South-East corners of the stadium, the club is creating pitch-side disabled bays in its North, South and West stands and providing super-risers to the existing mid-terrace bays.  Access provision also includes ensuring a safe means of evacuation in an emergency or in situations where lifts cannot be used.


This is an issue which Stoke City’s health & safety manager Rob Killingworth, had already addressed when reviewing emergency evacuation procedures under the club’s fire strategy. 


He explains: “Our chosen emergency evacuation method was the use of evacuation chairs so, about two years ago, we visited the Facilities Show to see what was on the market. 


“We looked at different manufacturers, including Evac+Chair and, after some in-depth conversations, we obtained quotes.  Evac+Chair offered the best solution in terms of design and quality combined with the best value for money so we ordered 18 chairs.”


The Evac+Chair model range offers a universal solution for safe stairway descent during an emergency.  The model chosen by Stoke City is the 300H which has a 182kg carrying capacity and is designed for one-person operation, avoiding the need for heavy lifting or manual handling.  British made, all Evac+Chairs carry the CE mark (class 1 medical device) and also undergo independent type testing.


As well as having the right equipment in place, a key requirement is having sufficient personnel trained in the use of evacuation chairs in an emergency.  As Rob Killingworth points out, this is not confined to the need to evacuate areas specifically designated for wheelchair users.


He says: “Evacuation procedures underpin our fire safety strategy, but we also need to have provision in place for any circumstance where someone may need assistance and is unable to use the lifts. 


“People with disabilities using the hospitality areas or someone might be taken ill or have a medical condition that means they need help, which could occur in any part of the stadium. 


“As you can imagine, we have a lot of people working here on match days, so we needed to develop a policy that enables us to train as many of them as possible.”


Although all Evac+Chair equipment is designed to be easy to use, the company always recommends evacuation chair training and offers two levels.  Stoke City opted for the Evac+Chair Key Trainer Masterclass. 


This is a full-day, certificated, ‘train the trainer’ course, enabling key staff to achieve the required level for formal certification, which qualifies them to provide in-house training to other staff members.


With a large rota of match-day stewards, plus catering and other on-site staff, training is being rolled out to as many staff as possible, to ensure that there are always sufficient numbers of trained people on site on a match day. 


The club is also in the process of recruiting a large team of access stewards as part of its Stoke City Safety Operation.  Their role includes helping with ingress and egress of the stadium to ensure spectator safety. Evacuation chair training will also be included with their disability training.


Gerard Wallace, managing director of Evac+Chair International says: “Rob and the team at Stoke City identified Evac+Chair as a key partner in achieving their aims to provide safe evacuation equipment for anyone visiting the ground who may require help.


“As part of our service, we assess individual stairs for the appropriate equipment and confirmed that the 300H was the ideal solution for use throughout the stadium.  The Evac+Chairs, plus our support, will be there to assist Stoke City Football Club and its dedicated fans for years to come.”


With development work well underway on the bet365 Stadium, the new facilities will be ready for use in August 2017.  By that time, a further 21 Evac+Chairs will be in place, with staff trained in their use.


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