In today’s reality of limited manpower and reduced assets, every sheriff, fire chief and emergency management agency (EMA) director worldwide is searching for one vehicle that will significantly impact their operational capabilities. Is there such a perfect vehicle? The case can be, and has been made for the addition of a Multi-Purpose Amphibious Vehicle (MPAV) to your department. MPAV are specialised vehicles that should be of robust aluminum construction, small to medium in size and capable of working in various types of climates and conditions: snow, mountains, lakes, rivers and marshes. The vehicle should have the ability to transition from land to water seamlessly. In some countries environmental regulations require the vehicle to produce a light footprint, generating less than 0.91 kilograms psi (2 lbs.) of ground pressure. A payload capacity sufficient to move equipment and/or personnel equal to 907 kg (2,000 lbs.) is also desirable. Recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan proved the necessity to move both equipment and first responders into a devastated area quickly. Yet, more important is having the ability to conduct triage operations and extract those critically injured in a timely fashion. MPAV should be configured with the ability to transport Stokes baskets or spine boards when the possibility of head and spine injuries occur. The Philippine Marine Corps realised the need to acquire smaller scale amphibian vehicles during Disaster Relief Operations (DRO). This requirement and capability shortfall was exposed throughout DRO involving Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in the past few years, and further highlighted during Typhoon Sendong in Mindanao. In the midst of these particular incidents, access to narrow roads and alleyways limited the capability of larger scale amphibious vehicles. Flooding causes more damage in the United States (US) than any other weather event, averaging 89 fatalities and $8.3 billion in damages annually. During May 2010, two separate storms, combined with snowmelt from the North and Upper Midwest regions of the US produced extreme flooding not seen in almost twenty years along the Mississippi River valley. Hundreds of people were killed and approximately 1,300 homes were evacuated in Memphis, Tennessee with another 24,000 affected in Mississippi and Louisiana. Major challenges faced county sheriff and fire departments along with Search and Rescue (SAR) and EMA agencies. Boats, trucks and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) had difficulty transitioning from water to land as emergency personnel encountered varying depths and unsure ground. First responders needed a reliable vehicle in which medical aid could be brought into the flooded area and isolated civilians could be quickly and safely evacuated. Because of its amphibious capabilities and versatility an MPAV was brought in to assist law enforcement and rescue personnel. Critical operations performed included: rescue of stranded civilians from their homes, shutting off power and other utilities from abandoned homes, flood stage/land surveys and the towing of boats through areas of shallow water eliminating the need to be towed by hand, increasing the capacity for victims to be rescued.1 “Iowa Task Force One generally deploys for incidents such as floods and tornados. The need to keep members safe and out of contaminated flood waters is a major concern. It is often difficult to determine what is beneath the water as well as what chemicals are in the water. One incident we encountered was when our team was deployed to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a flood event. Our search and rescue members were wading through flood waters in a residential area performing a house to house search. The flood waters were contaminated with oil, fuel, sewage, household waste and even diapers floating in the water. While performing a search, one of our members fell into a basement garage (below grade with a retaining wall) not visible because of the flood water. He stepped off of a retaining wall and was submerged under the flood waters. He was taken to the hospital to be evaluated. He was treated with a series of tetanus shots and subsequently acquired a serious sinus infection, which had to be clinically treated. In 2011, the big Missouri River flood occurred in Sioux City and surrounding states. The floodwaters began rising in the spring and subsided in the early fall. This put urban flooding and swift water rescue in our own backyard. With the floodwaters present for such a long time, the concern for the dikes and levy system holding back the water was great. The need for a vehicle to traverse the urban flooding and keep our members safe was sought. Our ideas moved to a vehicle that had multi-uses. The Team needed something amphibious. Something to carry personnel, tools and equipment and most important be able to rescue people, keeping everyone safe and as dry as possible. The team researched different amphibious vehicles and came across a MPAV that encompasses our needs. All with minimal water contact. We needed a vehicle that could traverse many different situations as safely. We added options like emergency lighting, winches, roll bars, and a canopy. The biggest add-on was flood lighting needed to light up the night. Most of our deployments seem to be in the dark of night. The Team received our MPAV in the summer of 2012. The MPAV is able to traverse all types of land and soil compositions with ease. It’s “light on its feet” and does not tear up the soil or disturb the vegetation. It is able to enter the water and manoeuvre through it will not much concern for what is underneath such as submerged vehicles, dumpsters, signs, posts or trees. It just runs right over them with little effort. It quickly exits the water onto non-flooded land with ease, without stopping or interrupting our mission. We have found the MPAV to be useful not only for flooding, but for other deployments like search and rescue after a tornado. The MPAV is able to go off road, travel and traverse areas damaged by tornados; areas that we could not access before. The MPAV can crawl over the debris left by the tornado and make its own path to where ever we might need it. If the roads are damaged we can make our own road and get to where we are needed. During training in the winter months the MPAV has proven to be an excellent snow and ice machine. It travels very smoothly and efficiently over snow and ice. In closing, we have found the MPAV to be an extremely valuable tool for search and rescue. The unit is able to access areas that were previously inaccessible, and also keeps our USAR members safe while preforming search and rescue missions.” – John Rentschler, Sioux City Fire Rescue 2 With the world’s population participating more and more in outdoor activities, hunting, fishing, biking, hiking, camping, including the recent explosion in ‘extreme’ sports, a tremendous burden is being put on county, state and federal SAR responsibilities. Now that aviation fuel (100LL) is approaching $6/gallon, SAR agencies will soon be faced with the challenging decision as to how they will effectively cover such vast and difficult terrains. Unnavigable roads in rural areas and under developed countries produce their own unique challenges for SAR operations. Dave Maynard, Chief of Operations, Logan County, West Virginia (WV) Emergency Ambulance Service Agency (LEASA) relates the following: “We found our MPAV while looking for alternatives to rescue people in a small Logan County (WV) community that was facing blocked access due to road construction causing major slides along the only roadway into the community. After much discussion, it was decided the Guyandotte River was the only logical way to evacuate patients in need of quick emergency care. The Guyandotte River is prone to swift rises in the narrow mountain valley making rescue with small boats a dangerous and unwise manoeuvre at best. We decided the MPAV was the logical and safest choice. In order to help us obtain funding for the equipment, we decided we needed to come up with other possible uses instead of just limiting it to the one project that would end when construction was completed. The more we thought about it the more ideas developed including rescuing people stranded in their homes during floods which this area suffers more than its share. Heavy snows frequent the rural hollows providing another use for either evacuating people or getting food and supplies to them. After getting the MPAV, we have another tool in our arsenal that we consider for use when we get a request for help and decide our response.” 3 In September, 2013, fire destroyed a large portion of the boardwalk in Seaside, New Jersey. Approximately 200 firefighters battled the fire for days, incorporating a Neptune Pumping System capable of 5,000 gpm.4 It has been suggested by some experts the ability to attack the blaze from the ocean side of the fire could have significantly reduced the amount of loss. Skid mounted pumping systems are available and can be configured for a MPAV with the proper payload capacity. An MPAV with a hydrostatic design could be a valuable asset when using hydraulic tools. These tools can be plugged into the existing flow system negating the need for additional equipment. The MPAV should also be considered when fighting wilderness fires and mountain rescue. High winds, terrain and aviation fuel costs can be limiting factors when developing an effective strategy for fighting fires in densely wooded areas or rescuing civilians at high elevations. MPAV’s give firefighting and SAR agencies the ability to put fire suppressing agents directly at the source of the blaze and extract injured personnel when necessary. While there will always be a need for boats and ATV’s in SAR fleets; each one fills a specific niche, MPAV’s when properly designed and configured can positively impact the capabilities of both SAR and firefighting agencies.
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1 ‘2011 Mississippi River Floods.’ Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 4th February 2014. Web. 4th April 2014.
2 Rentschler, John. ‘MPAV.’ Letter to Bob Phillips. 24th February 2014. Iowas, USAR, Task Forece-1. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
3 Maynard, David. ‘MPAV.’ Letter to Bob Phillips. 5th February 2014. LEASA. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web.
4 Haydon, Tom. ‘NJ.com.’ NJ.com. The Star-Ledger, 13th September 2013. Web. 4th April 2014.