There are some people who would say that a fire department requesting an All Terrain Vehicle (hereafter referred to as "ATV") for emergency response is nothing more than wasting money on a toy. "It's only something the firefighters will use during hunting season," they'll say. Not so. As fire departments across the country are increasingly tasked with added responsibilities, we must look at new and possibly unorthodox ways of providing these new services. One way to do this is through the use of an ATV.
There are several ways that a Hazardous Materials Team, in the performance of necessary job functions, can use an ATV. Use of an ATV also yields certain advantages as well. Listed below are the uses and advantages of utilizing an ATV. (Author's Note: ATV is used here as a generic term. It may be applied to the basic "four-wheeler" or the bigger 4x6 or 6x6 varieties.)
Increased Time in the Hot Zone
The limiting factor in most hazardous materials incidents is the air supply carried by the entry team. Regardless of the make or model of your SCBA, you can only carry so much air. Supplied air through a tether is not an option due to the length of travel, PPE, tripping hazards, etc. Depending on the length of travel from the entry point to the actual work area, safety factor and level of PPE being used, the actual work time in the hot zone may be as little at 10-15 minutes. This may require multiple entries, even on a relatively simple task. By using an ATV to transport Team members into the hot zone, we can increase their working time and decrease the number of entry teams needed, further reducing the risk of injury as well.
A technician's mobility and vision are decreased as the level of personal protection increases. A long walk into the hot zone increases the possibility of slips, trips and falls. The ATV may also be used to ferry equipment back and forth into the hot zone as well. It is much easier (and safer) to have the ATV carry the load of a chlorine "C Kit", for example, into the hot zone than for two technicians to either drag it on a cart or carry it by hand. This also decreases the chance of the entry team being injured with a strain or sprain.
The ATV also serves as an excellent rescue vehicle for rapid intervention. The "two in/two out" rule should always be followed on a hazardous materials incident. If one or both entry team members go down, it is much faster (and safer) for the rescue team to ride to their assistance than to walk or try to run into the hot zone, especially if they have to cover a great distance. The injured entry team members can be brought out on the ATV itself, on a trailer towed by the ATV or dragged out on a SKED type device towed behind the ATV. Victims that need to be evacuated from the hot zone can be removed using the same methods. Using the ATV to transport victims (either fire department or civilian) decreases the chance that the rescue team will be injured by hurrying to evacuate the hot zone under a heavy load.
The use of an ATV can serve to mitigate a hazardous materials incident sooner and more efficiently. One of the most important aspects of the hazardous materials incident is the recon. The recon tells the Incident Commander what product is leaking, what it is leaking from, the condition of the container or containers involved and how much product has leaked, just to name a few. A good recon will set the stage for how the rest of the incident is handled. One or two people riding on the ATV will be able to conduct a faster recon than the same two people walking. Using the ATV is also safer in this respect in that the recon team can quickly evacuate the hot zone should they get in too far or conditions begin to change rapidly. This also applies to the entry teams attempting to mitigate the problem as well.