In Freemasonry, the expression ‘going in the chair’ generally conjures up emotions of elation, pride, excitement and promises of a year of immense pleasure and enjoyment. It is a time to look forward to and an experience that is engraved in the mind for many years. Rarely do we consider that there can be a more menacing interpretation of the phrase.
During a training session for appointed fire officers in lodges, some brethren from Ashlar Lodge No 5154 and Blackpool Temperance Lodge No 5303 were rather dismayed when asked to demonstrate the use of an emergency evacuation chair, a chair that was intended to assist infirm or unwell colleagues to evacuate the upper floors of the Blackpool Masonic hall in the event of a fire or other emergency. It was realised that the chair required at least three fit and strong men to carry it down stairs – while the infirm clung on for his life during the ordeal.
“Such a procedure is not satisfactory when lives are at stake” was the unanimous decision of the trainees, “There must be better equipment on the market”.
And indeed there is. The two lodges instantly agreed to combine forces and secure sufficient funds to purchase an up-to-date and efficient emergency evacuation chair. And that is what they have done. The cumbersome relic of a chair has now been replaced with a state-of-the-art Garaventa Evacu-Trac, fitted with rubber tracks and wheels that can be easily manoeuvred up or down stairs by a single operator and, unlike the requirements of the older version of chair; the operator does not need to be built like a beefcake – and the infirm is in a much more secure and comfortable position.
But safety doesn’t come cheap. The cost, however, was not the major consideration of Ashlar Lodge and Blackpool Temperance Lodge members. It was the knowledge that, in the event of an emergency, their fellow Masons and visitors to the Masonic Hall were in the safest possible environment. And cost cannot be placed on saving a life.
Training sessions on the use of the new chair will soon take place but, because of the simplicity and efficiency of the design, the sessions should only take a fraction of the time in comparison with the ‘relic’ chair. Ashlar and Blackpool Temperance lodges are now in the process of raising more funds to ensure that a similar chair is available for the basement level of the building. With the generosity displayed by the brethren so far, there is little doubt that there will soon be another state-of-the-art-chair in place.