First Responders don’t have a choice where fires and accidents happen. In off-road environments, teams are challenged by the fact that their traditional fleet vehicles are too large to get to the scene of an incident quickly and efficiently. To solve this dilemma, fire departments and search and rescue teams the world over, from Australia to Austria, Mexico to Malaysia are increasingly turning to different types of all-terrain vehicle platforms that hold stretchers and other equipment for wildland fire fighting, off-road incidents or disasters such as floods or snow and ice storms.
Canadian based Ontario Drive & Gear Ltd. (ODG), is one such manufacturer who has capitalized on this demand and is fast making a name for itself as the Fire & Rescue industry’s supplier of choice. For nearly 50 years, ODG has been the leading manufacturer of extreme terrain vehicles, with the amphibious ARGO world renowned for its versatility and capability of traversing difficult terrain.
Originally geared towards recreational users, over the years increasing numbers of fire departments and search & rescue organizations have begun to recognize the ARGO’s unique capabilities, with many ultimately purchasing vehicles and outfitting them with aftermarket accessories such as stretchers, water tanks and lighting systems to meet departmental and constituency needs.
With demand coming from all corners of the globe for an off-road vehicle designed to address specific industry applications, the company recently unveiled a dedicated line of First Responder ARGOs that let Fire & Rescue personnel go anywhere and ‘Get in” and ‘Get Out’ safely, no matter the terrain. Designed for reliable off-road fire and rescue, the ARGO Responder MD and FF vehicles feature interchangeable modules allowing the unit to serve as a fire-fighting pump, off-road ambulance or crew transport for a team of up to 6 first-responders.
The ARGO Responder FF features a 75 gallon water tank and 5 gallon drop-in foam cell which firefighters can use to suppress fires on the spot or prevent fires before they start while the ARGO Responder MD features a Ferno #9 stretcher for extricating patients or performing rescues.
First-response features and designs for the fire & rescue vehicle have been in development, and in service around the world for the past ten years but the recent rollout is the first time that ARGO has developed specific models to meet the industry’s demands.
Hazmat calls. Train derailments. Wildfires. Wilderness rescues. Disaster response. The applications for off-road, all-terrain first responder vehicles are many and varied, with ARGOs leading the way.
In Norway for instance, the government relies on them for tunnel emergencies. The country is crisscrossed by upwards of 700 railway tunnels, all of which make for extremely difficult work environments for firefighters. For Norway’s first responders, the ARGO has proven itself as the ONLY small vehicle which can work with rail wheels for train or subway tunnel rescues, and with the high load capacity and terrain capabilities to boot.
In Japan meanwhile, the government uses the vehicles to navigate through sensitive terrain in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters. When a series of landslides crippled Hiroshima in August 2014, ARGOs were called on to transport first responders and equipment to and from the area and extricate survivors. With its minimal ground pressure, the impact of an ARGO is actually lighter than an adult’s footstep, a feature that was absolutely critical in navigating the sensitive landslide zone. The terrain of the accident was a mixture of sediment, debris and rubble, which the ARGO had no trouble in managing.
Aside from its ability to tread lightly and its versatility in off-road situations, the vehicle’s amphibious capabilities are what has won it praise from departments whose territories include any sort of water bodies, places where accidents and incidents are all too prevalent.
The Township of Muskoka Lakes in Ontario’s ‘Cottage Country’ is a good example of the type of environment where the ARGO thrives. Littered with lakes, the town’s fire department have come to rely on their ARGO for a multitude of amphibious water rescues including kayaking mishaps and snowmobilers falling through early spring ice among others.
“We did research into getting a vehicle that can be used all year round.” Chief Harry Baranik comments. “The ARGO was the only vehicle that could float and go over very rough terrain. When you have members of the fire department going out to rescue people in ice water situations, this is the perfect vehicle to do it.”
Snow storms are another area in which ARGOs have proven their mettle. In areas prone to torrential storms, firefighters are relied upon to assist stranded people, quite often a tremendous challenge when the snow comes down so fast that snowmobiles, salt trucks and heavy equipment are unable to offer respite. The ‘Snowvember’ storm that rocked Buffalo in 2014 showed just how important a specialist all terrain / off road vehicle can be in a crisis situation. From November 17-21, 2014, a lake effect snowstorm of epic proportions pummeled areas of western New York. More than 7 feet of snow fell in a narrow band extending from Lake Erie through South Buffalo and into its suburbs. People were trapped in their homes as snow piled against doors more quickly than it could be removed. A state of emergency was declared and except for EMS personnel, everyone was ordered to stay off the streets. Thankfully, one of the local departments had a fully tracked ARGO that ended up being used around the clock to rescue trapped residents and help get first responders to where they needed to be. As the local chief remarked after the worst of the recovery period was over, ‘When every second counts, you can count on the ARGO.’
Affirming the above remarks, one of the earliest advocates of the ARGO as a first response vehicle was Kirk Walker, the Executive Director of REACT, a volunteer search & rescue unit that serves the region around Waterloo, Ontario.
Kirk has been using the ARGO for nearly ten years notes, “The greatest value of the ARGO could be in the improved response times it allows EMS teams. The ARGO’s all-terrain ability simply allows personnel and equipment to reach the rescue or recovery scene faster. Rough terrain is a serious obstacle to paramedics on foot. It’s difficult to carry a stretcher safely over broken ground: it can become dangerous for the patient and hazardous to the paramedics who carry the stretcher. If your rescue is two or three kilometers into the bush, the ARGO gets life-saving personnel and equipment onto the scene quickly, and back out again safely.”
As ODG works with more and more fire departments and search and rescue organizations, it continues to tweak the ARGO to ensure first responders can take on trouble like never before and get home safe. With 75 per cent of the planet covered in water and a high proportion of terrain accessible to traditional trucks, there’s no shortage of places where these versatile off-road machines can thrive. No doubt it’s only a matter of time before readers see one in their own neighbourhood.
For more information, go to www.ARGOxtv.com