News & Features — 17 December 2018 at 4:44 pm

Inspiration to Reality: The Emergency Bottleshower

Tim Jeffrey / Bottleshower

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Working away from the hospital is often a source of inspiration. We get the chance to see the world from a new angle and that can spawn all sorts of interesting ideas. However, it is a rare individual that can turn a moment of inspiration into a real object that makes a difference to people’s lives. Tim Jeffrey was one of the founding members of i-am associates, an international branding consultancy based in London. In 2013, he was inspired by news reports of suffering around the world to create the Bottleshower, which is helping the victims of acid attacks, burns and even chemical weapons around the world. This is how it happened.

By November 2013, life in the war zones of the Middle East continued to go from bad to worse. British and American troops were trying to extract themselves from the dust bowls of Helmand Province Afghanistan, the Syrian Government had just bombed the city of Aleppo and to cap it all a typhoon devastated the Philippines leaving people homeless and knee deep in debris.

I was watching the news one day, and was left with an indelible image, starting a mission that would pretty much consume me for the following five years.

The programme had included a report from a hospital somewhere in Aleppo showing a mother with
her young son in her arms who stood like ghostly figures covered in powdery grey rubble dust. He had suffered terrible blast burns. As she screamed for help for her boy amid the turmoil, she took a bottle of water from a trolley and poured it over her son’s arms and legs in an attempt to ease his suffering. She was desperately trying to clean his wounds, but the pressure of water made him literally jump out of her arms. His look of pain and desperation moved me deeply.

The bulletins came thick and fast, the next showed British troops on the frontline dealing with extreme temperatures pouring bottles of water over their heads as momentary relief to ease their discomfort. The one valuable asset in both these clips other than life itself was water and at some point in all of this I started to wonder if there was a better more effective way to use this bottled asset to help those I had witnessed in these and other disaster zones. Could I make a difference? Could I actually give something back? If I could, it would have to be my time and money with no one to blame if I fell short.

So that’s how my quest to find a better way to use bottled water when washing started. The picture I had stuck in my head was of a shower flow from a bottle. It looked to me like a good idea. So good in fact that it must have been done already.

The potential market I envisaged would be the Red Cross and similar relief organisations that needed to distribute bottles of water as a primary solution for personal washing and preparation of food. Having such a strong feeling about the potential I spent the following weeks researching the idea and looking for products that fulfilled my brief which was simple: a showering device that would work with any plastic drinking water bottle, provide a proper shower stream and extend the flow time, while being compact, light and affordable.

To my surprise all I found fell short of the target. So, the question was how to develop the idea into a solution that would be so good it would be unthinkable not to use one when faced with extreme circumstances. However, before I sank my time and money into this project it had to have a reality check. I took the idea to my Patent Attorney in London, explained the idea with a couple of sketches showed him my research, then sat back and watched his reaction. His conclusion was a good, simple, idea, defendable with patents if I could make it work, makeable and marketable.

Simple does not mean easy

I read somewhere that simple doesn’t mean easy. How right the author was. Six months later I had a solution that fitted every commercial narrow neck bottle available, created two calibrated shower flows multiplying the flow time up to ten times, a working model of both and found UK manufacturers and suppliers for all of the components at the right price. The trail of discarded handmade prototypes was long and painful. I had made so many that failed miserably that at times I had wondered about giving up on the idea.

After further Patent Attorney meetings and having filed all of the necessary patent applications, copyrights and trademarks, I proceeded to hawk 3D samples of the Bottleshower (now, Bottleshower TM!) heads around to a long list of targets. I did the full marketing card of mail shots, sampling and meetings. Looking back, there is no other way to describe this period other than to say it was a long road with lots of dark tunnels and very little light. I was asked recently if I had any moments of doubt about the project to which I replied only once, “2014”.

Gathering momentum

By the beginning of 2015, I had secured orders with one of the largest travel accessory companies in the UK with agents throughout Europe. They had seen the potential for a solution to showering using limited supply of water, even a shower with just one litre in extreme circumstances. Very positive press coverage in the nationals and travel journals in 2016 saw further interest and subsequent orders from other agents and retailers. However, despite my determined efforts to get a major relief agency on board, success in this sector still eluded me. The lack of traction was only partially eased by the positive feedback from agencies that had sampled it in the field, including trials in a Syrian refugee camp and by aid teams in Africa. By the summer of 2017, I had an awful lot of carrots but very little meat.

The year 2017 saw a terrible upsurge in in gangs using acid as an attack weapon in the act of robbery on the streets of our capital city. The effects were terrifying for the victims, as acid was usually sprayed in the face, leaving horrendous scar tissue if not diluted quickly. The evening news reports showed the Metropolitan police having to deal with the situation as best they could by pouring water over victims from large five litre bottles, before the fire brigade took over using their hoses set to trickle. It was painful to watch, the victim in sheer panic with the police doing the best they could. Nevertheless, the Met adapted quickly, gloves and goggles were issued to protect themselves from the splashing effect of the corrosive substances.

As I read and watched these attack reports, I felt very frustrated by the way they were attempting to pour water over victims and potentially doing more damage, I knew the Bottleshower could do a much better job but how could I get the opportunity to convince them? Travelling home one evening from London on the train, I picked up a copy of the London Evening Standard and read yet another report on the devastating acid attacks plaguing the city. The Met now had an officer in charge of corrosive crime, Detective Superintendent Mike West, whose responsibility it was to take control of deterrent, protection and treatment. I now had a name.

Calling the Police

After several days of trying to contact Mike West I was getting nowhere. I was desperate to help prove I had a better way to help dilute, cool and remove the corrosive substances being used but I needed another way in. I contacted the London Evening Standard and told them I had a product that would help the Police and victims of acid attacks but couldn’t get through to the right people at the Met.

The reporter I spoke to said he was interested in pursuing the story and if he thought it was as good as I said from information I sent him, he would contact the Met to see what they thought. A week passed by, very conscious that even though I thought I was the most important thing in his world, I was probably some way down the list. I kept on bugging the reporter for an update but nothing came back. This is the world of reporting, I thought: get the story, get it on the page, move on. What more could I do?

On the evening of Tuesday1 August 2017, I picked up my copy of the Evening Standard and found a seat on the train. Page two of the paper ran yet another headline ‘Acid attack horror outside Harrods’. The picture said it all, I thought as I read the article then the sub story, ‘MET to test bottle shower for burns as it issues kits’. It went on to say that the head of the Metropolitan Police’s Corrosive-based crime unit was to meet me to arrange the trial. I was pleasantly shocked, surprised and confused. It was the first I’d heard of it, but I could hear the creak of a door opening.

Over the next month I was eventually able to talk to Mike West, who passed me on to the Threat Mitigation Technologies Team for assessment. It transpired was that the Met used the large five litre bottles and had decided this volume of water was the way forward. The Bottleshower didn’t fit five litre containers, as I had designed it for narrow neck bottles. It could have been the end of the road but they were sufficiently won over to ask me to go away and make it work to their specification.

The turning point

Two weeks later, I went back with a solution that passed the test. They were decisive and within two months, all of the Met’s response vehicles and static security posts were equipped with Corrosive Attack Kits featuring the five litre Bottleshower. Subsequent operational feedback was positive, the Bottleshowers were making a difference when washing victims, as the shower stream was directable. Rather than water all over the floor, an uncontrollable burst or a dribble of water, there was a four-minute constant strong shower stream. This was a turning point in my journey.

In 2018, I was approached by Scott Howard, Head of CBRN Resilience for West Midlands Police, who was putting together a Decontamination Kit with SP Services. He wanted to include the Bottleshowers based on feedback from the Met. Following this and other police requests, the Bottleshower is now recognised by Police forces and both the National CBRN Centre and British Burn Association, as the best way to deliver water from a bottle when used to irrigate burns and wounds.

The challenge is, of course, by no means over but my mantra is clear. If you use a bottle of water to wash with, you need a Bottleshower. My focus is now on medics and the military, with versions that fit the Pattern 58 Osprey MOD/NATO water bottle, as well a range of specialised sterile water bottles used by medical teams. In fact, anyone that uses bottled water to shower, wash or irrigate. It’s a long list that just gets longer, but relief agencies are still up at the top.

When I reflect back, it’s ironic that a devastating crime provided the springboard for getting the Bottleshower into the spotlight. However, if it has helped to make a difference, it’s fulfilled the purpose I set out for at the very beginning. For that, I am truly grateful.