OHV rescue rigs save lives on farms, forests, trails
By Dave Halsey
NOHVCC Contributing Writer
As long as there have been ATVs, people have used them to search for missing persons, haul sandbags during spring floods, and reach homeowners stranded by natural disasters such as road-blocking ice storms. Today, ATVs, UTVs and now custom-built EUVs (emergency utility vehicles) are playing an ever-increasing role in saving lives and property.
Across the country, firefighters are using off-highway vehicles (OHVs) of all kinds to battle grass fires, and navigate rugged terrain to reach folks injured on the job or during outdoor activities. Search and rescue teams use them to transport the injured out of everything from large county parks to remote wilderness areas. A wide variety of purpose-built emergency OHVs are on duty at county fairs, race tracks, outdoor festivals, amusement parks, and beaches. And the equipment is getting more and more specialized all the time.
Mike Brady is the owner of Emergency Equipment, a master distributor of two product lines of off-highway rescue vehicles and equipment, and a factory rep for a third. For over 20 years, he has helped emergency services retrofit existing fleets and design and build turnkey emergency OHVs complete with lighting, sirens, custom colors, logos and striping. “In the old days, you got 12 people and you hiked out there,” said Brady. “You carried the stretcher and backboard and all your medical gear. You found the patient, you packaged them, and then eight of you carried them out, with the other four taking turns switching out with you. That march in and carry out could take 6 hours. Today, we can reach that person in 15 or 20 minutes, have him packaged and back out again, plus loaded into a medical helicopter, in another 25 minutes. We’ve saved 5 hours, and we’ve delivered him to definitive care within the ‘golden hour’.”
For fighting fires, tanks of water or compressed air foam can be towed on trailers behind ATVs and UTVs or built into the bed of a 4x4 or 6x6 UTV. The same goes for stretchers, which usually include a jump seat for the first responder. Some insert systems use common bolt patterns, allowing multiple uses of equipment in the back of a department’s UTV. Frames can be added to mount an inflatable boat for water rescues.
Each emergency service department has its own unique set of needs, said Brady. He posts dozens of photos of emergency vehicles on his company’s web site, many of them accompanied by the story behind the design. One story reports the events of an emergency medical service (EMS) in Kentucky that decided to invest in a vehicle following a severe, winter ice storm. Emergency transports were unable to respond for days. Health and welfare visits to elderly and infirm citizens were almost impossible. The EMS bought a medical insert for the bed of a Gator 4x4 utility vehicle, and a 20 ft. long special response support trailer outfitted with medical, communication and command supplies for use as a forward command post during disaster responses throughout the region.
In many rural areas, volunteer fire departments are charged with responding to all kinds of emergencies on farms, construction sites, and OHV riding areas. OHV rescue rigs give them the versatility they need to reach accident victims. The Virgil Fire Department in Cortland County, New York, is typical of departments across the country. “Their little volunteer fire department maintains the off-road rescue capability for the entire county. So whether it’s a snowmobiler in trouble, a hiker in trouble, a farmer that goes down in a field, an ATV accident, or a major OHV racing event, they’re the ones that are going to respond county-wide,” said Brady.
One web page on the Emergency Equipment web site shows custom-outfitted ATVs and UTVs in use during search and rescue training at the Knott County ATV and Motorcycle Training Center (covered in an article in the February newsletter).
Another page shows a wilderness rescue training exercise in Nye County, Nevada. With the help of a local Boy Scout troop, local emergency responders spent a weekend in the desert wilderness covering all aspects of rescue missions. One mock scenario included multiple victims with varying injuries, sustained as if the Scouts’ rock-climbing anchors had given way while rappelling. The emergency personnel used a rescue OHV to navigate a half mile of rocky, high-desert terrain to reach four patients. A week later, the same first responders used their skills during an actual emergency, reaching the driver of an ATV who had been injured after cresting a sand dune in unfamiliar desert terrain and tumbling to the bottom of a sand bowl.
It’s not just emergency services in rural areas that are using OHV rescue rigs. They’re becoming increasingly popular in areas where city meets country. “I get calls on a weekly basis from emergency responders,” Brady said. “It's fire departments, police departments, sheriff’s departments, search and rescue teams, and so forth. The first thing they say is, our community is changing, but we still need to be able to respond to what they call the urban/suburban/rural interface or suburban/rural interface. That part of our community out there on the edges, that’s where people go to play, and that’s where people are working. But if you’ve got a 300-pound patient a mile off the road, if you don’t have the right equipment to bring him out, you’re going to need those 12 people.”
This article is reprinted with permission from NOHVCC.