The Use of All Terrain Vehicles (ATV’s) in Hazardous Materials Response

There are some people who would say that a fire department requesting an All Terrain Vehicle for emergency response is nothing more than wasting money on a toy.

An ATV can also be used to ferry tools, equipment, or personnel into or out of the hot zone, or victims out of the hot zone more efficiently. It is much easier for one person riding the ATV to ferry in tools, equipment and/or personnel than to have team members in full PPE making repeated trips and walking the same equipment in. This also applies to victim transport as well. Depending on the size of the patient, in can take from two to four people to remove the victim on a stretcher from the hot zone. Not only is this inefficient (especially when there are multiple victims to contend with) but also severely taxes your crews tasked with transporting the victims in this manner. In exercises conducted by the Greensboro Fire Department during a WMD/Mass Casualty exercise, one person driving a four-wheeler type ATV with a trailer was able to move three to four people at a time depending on their "injuries".

Other Uses to Consider

The ATV is a tool whose uses are only limited by the imagination of those using it. During outdoor events such as concerts or any gatherings involving large amounts of people, the ATV can be used as a rapid intervention vehicle for EMS or small fires. Its off-road capabilities can be invaluable in a search and rescue operation in fields, woods or any other terrain where other vehicles cannot gain access. It can also be used in the technical rescue arena where it can be used in ferrying tools and equipment such as shoring, trench panels, etc. Do not overlook the ATV for uses on everyday fires either as it can be used to transport air bottles or rehab supplies throughout the fireground.

Other Factors to Consider

2. How will you transport the ATV to the incident? The Greensboro Fire Department utilizes two ATV's. A Honda four-wheeler is transported on the Hazardous Material Team's Decon 19 (our mass casualty/mass decon tractor trailer) while a John Deere Gator (located at Station 6) is carried in a trailer that must be towed by a pick-up or other vehicle.

3. Safety first!! All operators must either have previous experience with ATV's or be trained in their use. All operators must wear a helmet at all times. All tools and equipment must be properly tied down during transport into and out of the hot zone. Care must be taken, especially when transporting victims, regardless of their condition. When transporting victims or personnel, the maximum speed should be no more than 10 mph. Always read the manufacturer's instruction manual.

4. Decontamination. If the ATV enters the hot zone, it must be decontaminated. This may seem like a large undertaking when we are used to only decontaminating personnel and equipment, but it is possible. If the Army can decontaminate tanks after they have been in an NBC atmosphere, a small ATV is certainly possible.

5. Preventive maintenance. The ATV is a machine, just like a fire truck, only smaller. How will the unit be maintained and who will maintain it? Will it be stored in a location where it will be checked on a regular basis?

6. Refresher training. The ATV is a tool, like many tools carried by a Hazardous Materials Team. In order to gain proficiency, personnel must practice and train with the ATV on a regular basis. It does not good for the unit to sit in storage after the novelty has worn off.


ATV's can be a valuable tool in emergency services response. With practice, training and a little imagination, it can be a welcome tool in any fire department's arsenal. Again, each fire department must assess the needs of their department, this will ensure that the purchase of an ATV is the right choice for them.