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6 off-road rescue vehicles for winter

Not every emergency scene has road access, which is all the more treacherous in winter weather; here are six solutions to getting there


Emergency responders know that sometimes the greatest challenge on any response is just getting to the scene. That’s especially true during the winter months when colder temperatures and winter precipitation can turn even the best road into a skating rink.

Increasingly, many fire departments are investing in a variety of specialized off-road apparatus to better meet Old Man Winter’s challenges. Here’s a look at some of what’s new and interesting in that fire-rescue vehicle segment.

Alternative Support Apparatus manufactures a wide variety of off-road specialty vehicles. ASAP uses the Polaris Ranger 6×6 chassis that features an 800-cc electronic fuel injected 40-horsepower engine, on-demand six-wheel drive and independent suspension as its basic apparatus platform.

For its emergency vehicles, ASAP lengthens and modifies the Polaris Ranger chassis to accommodate a larger rear equipment mounting area and more weight-carrying capacity. ASAP manufactures three main product lines: the MedStat ambulance, the Wildfire fire fighting/rescue vehicle and the Select Series Flatbed that has various modular kits for industrial, utility, construction and EMS applications.

Gaining apparatus access for firefighting operations during heavy winter snowfalls, particularly in the Wildland Urban Interface areas, is a big task for many departments. The population that has moved into WUI areas has greatly increased the need for a single piece of apparatus that can bring the big water into the scene for quick fire knockdown.

The Bulldog 4x4 pumper is built on an International 4800 and can carry 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of water or foam and a 300- to 1,000-gpm pump. But what makes this piece of apparatus so valuable is its 54-inch military-grade Hemmit tires, a ground clearance of 25 inches and an 80-gallon fuel tank.

Water and ice
Winter weather access challenges don’t just mean snow and ice. Strong winter storms can bring prodigious rainfall and flooding to both coastal and mountainous regions making access difficult to impossible for first-responders.

The high-water evacuation truck from G.A. Chivvis allows emergency responders to get in to areas hit by high water and get civilians out. The company takes a 6x6 refurbished military truck chassis and customizes it to customer needs in its Lindenhurst, N.Y. facility.

The truck is protected by heavy-grade steel plates guarding the undercarriage and by heavy steel piping that protects occupants. It also has a full snorkelling of the engine air intake and exhaust system. And there a covered seating area for evacuees and an on-board water tank and PTO pump for pump-and-roll operations.

Winter doesn’t necessarily mean that popular lakes, rivers and streams close for recreational pursuits; those looking to enjoy the great outdoors turn to activities like skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing and such.

The Oceanid rapid deployment craft is an inflatable boat specifically designed and built to be easy to store, deploy and use. When deflated, it stores in a 2-foot cube and weighs 50 pounds; it can be stored aboard an emergency vehicle or larger boat. One person can carry the cube to the launch site and inflate it in seconds.

Both ends of the craft are upturned so that the rescuer can position the boat’s open end over the victim while the victim’s head remains above water at all times. This feature also enables a rescuer to reach forward and pull the victim into the boat through the pour-over while safely in the boat.

It can be towed by a personal watercraft, thus increasing its operating range on the water.

Snow ambulance
After reading about the Snowbulance, I believe the Rescue Boggan should come up with another name; this rig is a year-round performer. The Snowbulance is a fully enclosed rescue unit made of polyethylene that’s roomy for a patient on an 18-inch backboard and two attendants.

A gas shock suspension and cushioned limited-rotational hitch improves occupant comfort and safety. The Snowbulance is equipped with body reflectors, brake and running lights and can be interchangeably mounted on composite skis or all-terrain tires.

Optional equipment for the Snowbulance includes a patient compartment heater and an interior patient compartment light. It also can come with an ATV conversion that includes high-speed bearings for the all-terrain wheels. The manufacturer recommends a 45 mph maximum speed limit when towing the Snowbulance.

Because it hovers 9 inches above the terrain or water surface, a hovercraft keeps the rescue team above the danger and gives rescuers access to areas a boat or helicopter cannot reach.

Another plus to the use of hovercraft, particularly during floods, is that there is no propeller to get snagged on street furniture, wire fences and plastic bags floating in the water. Rescue hovercraft manufactured by companies such as Neoteric and Hovercraft come in a variety of sizes that can accommodate as many as six crew members.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.