May 24, 2017
Portable Drinking Fountains: A Help or Hindrance?

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By Bill Wissen, MA, ATC, LAT

Why is the Athletic Trainer tasked with serving drinking fluids to exercising athletes? I guess this question is best answered by the founding fathers of the athletic training profession. I’m sure we can place this duty somewhere in Domain 1 (Prevention of athletic injury) of the BOC’s Athletic Training Practice Analysis. Fluid delivery has become a large portion of an athletic trainer’s daily routine, and the search for the easiest and most convenient means of fluid delivery continues today.

The first battery operated portable beverage dispenser was developed at Texas A&M University in the late 1980’s, and licensed for production through large athletic training suppliers for many years. The first “portable beverage dispenser” was patented in 1992 and cornered the market for several years thereafter. Many other manufacturers have improved on these original designs. Whether is a bigger holding tank, more drinking hoses, high capacity batteries, towable carts, or more efficient charging systems, the basic mechanism has not changed since the late 1980’s.

That is until today. At the AT Expo in Houston, a completely new technology will be introduced. In booth 3067, will be the first no-charge, 10 year battery life, built in battery meter, filtered water system with a large insulated tank that holds ice for 3 days. The need for a custom designed circuit board to control battery charge, and protect the pump from running dry and destroying itself is long overdue. This new technology will eliminate many problems that plague the portable drinking fountain industry.

Speaking of problems, I have talked with more than one company that has ceased production of portable drinking fountains due to the constant maintenance of the 1980’s design. Athletic Trainers are highly intelligent individuals. We study the physics of direct current, alternating current, interferential current and how best to apply it to the human body to enhance the healing time of an athlete’s injury. However, a simple interrupted 12 volt circuit from a battery to a pump baffles many athletic trainers. More than one manufacturer has stopped making portable drinking fountains because of the headaches of maintenance and the inability of athletic trainers to maintain their machines. That’s why I ask the question, are portable drinking fountains a help or hindrance?

In my nearly 20 years of business, I have talked with my fair share of extremely frustrated, and irritated athletic trainers after their portable drinking fountain stopped working in the middle of a practice, and they are scrambling to provide drinking fluids for their team. I understand this problem. I was there in 1995. I purchased my first portable drinking fountain to have it self-destruct in a week. One of my athletic training students forgot to latch the pump box after placing a battery in the system. She tilted the dolly back and the battery promptly fell out on the floor with the entire wiring harness attached to it. Practice started in 10 minutes, so plan “B” was enacted. We filled the coolers and bottles, and spend the next two and one-half hours filling bottles and squirting water into players’ mouths. I recall saying to myself “I won’t get my rehabs done efficiently, I won’t watch the necessary groups engaged in contact and vulnerable to injury, and be running around like a madman.” Moral of the story, I took the broken machine home and figured out where every wire re-attached and designed a failsafe circuit for the machine. I vowed, never again will this happen, and I improved on the design and went into business in 1998 to become one of the longest running drinking fountain manufacturers today.

I guess it is time to include basic circuitry in our Athletic Training Education Programs. Athletic Trainers are highly capable of maintaining their machines with a little understanding of a 12V circuit, simple circuit testing, battery testing, and basic mechanical repair. This short course would reduce the stress level of many athletic trainers, and return us to what we do best; take care of athletes.

All in all, the portable drinking fountain has helped the athletic trainer perform their job better. However, ask an athletic trainer who has a failed machine if it is a help or a hindrance, and I think you will get a different answer.

Stop by our booth at the NATA EXPO and share a rewarding story, or a frustrating moment with portable drinking fountains. I’m sure all of us will understand your experience, and get a chuckle out of an experience that wasn’t funny at the time.

About the author:

Bill Wissen, MA, ATC, LAT is a 1980 graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University where he played college basketball and worked as an athletic training student. Upon graduation he pursued a Master’s Degree in Athletic Training at Western Michigan University. In 1982, Wissen was employed as the Athletic Trainer at Alief Hastings High School in Houston, TX where he remained for 29 years. In 2011 he accepted an Athletic Training Outreach position with Houston Methodist Hospital. Today, Wissen is the Athletic Training Manager overseeing daily operations and working with a staff of 25 athletic trainers. Wissen founded WissTech Enterprises in 1998 and has produced portable drinking fountains for nearly 20 years. His brand “Hydration Station” is an industry leader. Wissen is an NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer and a NATA District 6 Hall of Fame member.

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