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Assessment Of Off-Road Rescue And Firefighting Needs & Capabilities


In recent years, there has been a move toward more and more outdoor recreation. To expand access, miles of abandoned rail lines have been opened to the public. While this is great, there is a down side; in the planning stages, sometimes there is no consideration given to how to take care of EMS and fire incidents on the trails. That job has been left to the impacted towns to assess what types of equipment and training is needed to provide EMS and firefighting on this new infrastructure, with the cost being absorbed by the town. Ignoring this situation is not an option.

Some (but not all) of the types of off-road incidents fire/rescue departments may be called on to respond to include but are not limited to: summertime bicycle accidents, walking or running injuries, farming or logging accidents or other medical incidents and, of course, brush fires. In the wintertime, snowmobile accidents are prevalent but the lost or injured hunter or cross-country skier may come up.

Smaller off-road equipment can make a difference in other ways also – such as coverage at sporting events, public events, parades, or to provide rescue services when weather conditions make it impossible to get to people stuck in their homes or on the highway. In short, there are a lot of uses for the smaller rigs. They are not simply “big boy toys”. They are real pieces of emergency equipment that provide the means to respond to EMS and fire scenes that conventional trucks and ambulances simply cannot reach.

For years, the only winter access to the outback was a snowmobile towing a sled. Some trailers evolved that could be used winter or summer. These were the only answer to off-road EMS calls. They do work, but have some minor things to consider, i.e. length and turning radius, monitoring a patient on the way out of the woods and a sulky-type seat that leaves the attendant exposed to branches or a possible rollover.

In the last few years, there has been wide acceptance of the UTV or off-road side-by-side vehicles. They are more compact, offer better protection to the crew and patient and are very versatile. With the addition of available slip-in skid-units they can be configured to do just EMS or EMS and firefighting with the same vehicle. They can carry a patient or water and a pump as a single unit. With the addition of track systems they can be used all year-round. After looking at all equipment options and potential mission needs the department will present an off road rescue plan to the town.

There is no getting around it, accidents and fires happen in out-of-the way places. Having the equipment to get to them is necessary. Off road emergency equipment allows that to happen and at the same time reduces the potential of injuries to crews.

It takes several people to carry a patient and ten people to carry fifty gallons of water on their backs into a fire. All of them are exposed to back and other injuries that can cost a town a lot of money. The use of off road equipment is faster and safer for patients and fire/rescue crews working in difficult areas of town.

In closing, UTV side by side vehicles are no longer considered “big boy toys”. Based on the sheer number of UTV’s with medical or fire/rescue skid-units in public safety roles throughout the world, they are now respected pieces of equipment right along side our Class A apparatus and full size ambulances.

Respectfully submitted,
Ralph Sanders, Retired Firefighter/Paramedic

For D. S. S. Consulting Ralph Sanders Ret. FF/PM Ralph Sanders is a retired firefighter/ paramedic with twenty years service in local 1045 Concord, NH. He started his career in EMS with the Penacook, NH. Rescue Squad in the early sixties. His main focus now is off road patient transport and water & rescue gear.

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