Makers of the ARGO family of UTVs recently introduced a new model designed specifically for firefighting duties. But the announcement came as no surprise to many firefighters and EMS units in Canada and the U.S.
First-response features and designs for the ARGO have actually been in development, and in service, for five years. According to Mark Atkinson, an ARGO dealer based in Brantford, Ontario, the long development process is characteristic for the manufacturer, Ontario Drive & Gear Ltd. (ODG).
“ARGO is world-renowned for its light amphibious vehicles,” says Atkinson. “It’s because they really do their homework. They hook up with the right people to collaborate on their ideas and equipment. They don’t bring anything out until it’s ready to go!”
Purpose-built for off-road Fire & Rescue
The Fire & Rescue package unveiled this year is built on the 8-wheeled 750 HDi extreme terrain vehicle. Interchangeable modules equip the ARGO HDi to serve as a fire-fighting pump, an off-road ambulance, or crew transport for a team of up to 6 first-responders.
Among the teams to see early versions of the Fire & Rescue ARGO is REACT, a volunteer search & rescue unit that serves the region around Waterloo, Ontario. Kirk Walker, the Executive Director of REACT, recalls the “homework” ODG did to develop an ARGO vehicle for his application.
“It was 1998 when I first saw an ARGO in emergency yellow at the Paris Fair (in Paris, Ontario). Up to then, we just had golf carts we used at community events. ARGO designers came out and worked with our paramedics to create a stretcher and carrier to mount in the rear compartment. We even did simulations with a paramedic performing life-saving procedures on a ‘patient’ who was strapped onto the stretcher. They measured the heights and reach and positioning, then designed a mount that lets us work safely while we transport the patient.”
Additional search & rescue features on the REACT vehicle included 12V lighting on a stand that is also fitted with hooks for IV bags, LED emergency flashers plus storage for an O2 respirator and a defibrillator.
Development in the field
ARGO first-response vehicles are a relatively common sight in upper New York state, where dealer John McGinnis has been supplying them to municipal fire departments for over 10 years. His most recent delivery was the new purpose-built 750 HDi Fire & Rescue unit, which recently joined the fleet of the Bridgeport Volunteer Fire Company. The Bridgeport company originally acquired an ARGO Conquest model from McGinnis in 2002. That vehicle served its community through more than 10 years of active duty on ice rescues, searches for lost hunters and fighting brush fires.
“The work we did here led to the new Fire & Rescue model you can buy today,” says McGinnis. “We designed a skid pack that can carry a 75 gal. water tank with 75 ft. of hose and four crew to resupply the firefighters’ backpacks. It will also pull a trailer with another 150 gal. of water, which can reduce trips and save time back & forth to the command base for refills.”
McGinnis has also seen ARGO vehicles at structure fires in more accessible urban areas, where conventional trucks are on-scene. The light weight and low ground pressure of the ARGO allow it to travel freely in the work zone without concern for running over hoses or other supply lines.
Multi-purpose rescue capabilities
The Fire Chief in Bridgeport, Frank Thompson Jr., is a convincing advocate for the 8-wheeled ARGO. “It’s a very diverse unit – we use it for everything!” he reports. “We have a lot of wilderness area that’s popular with birders and hunters. A regular ATV wouldn’t cut it through the water and muck out there. Its ability to float makes it unique.”
The ARGO’s amphibious capability was a major factor in Bridgeport’s decision to acquire the vehicle for ice rescues. Fitted with rubber tracks, the ARGO can creep out onto the frozen lake with a footprint that is lighter than a man walking. If the ice does give way beneath it, the ARGO can simply swim to solid ground.
As Kirk Walker points out, 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.” Easily transported by trailer, REACT’s ARGO is called into service by fire departments and EMS units from several municipalities in the Waterloo region.
Safety for first-responders
ARGO had the safety of the EMS teams in mind while adapting a standard CMC Rescue Traverse stretcher to the ARGO platform. With a patient strapped on, the stretcher simply slides from the rear of the vehicle onto a fixed rail mount. Rescue workers are spared from the risks inherent in the awkward body positioning required by a side-loading stretcher. The ARGO then provides a stable platform for life-saving efforts. As Walker says, “We can have 100% focus on patient care, instead of just trying to keep up with the vehicle or to keep our balance.”
The ARGO stretcher is also interchangeable with the standard stretchers used in ambulances, so there’s no need to transfer a patient from one stretcher to the other for transport to the hospital.
Chief Thompson appreciates how the ARGO keeps rescue workers safe on thin ice or deep water. Even while floating on the lake, the ARGO is stable enough that two large men can pull a person in the water up over the side without risking harm to the crew.
The all-in-one solution
Although the ARGO Fire & Rescue UTV is fitted with highly specialized equipment, Mark Atkinson points to its versatility as its greatest asset for municipal planners. “It’s the one machine that has the capability to do everything that these industry professionals need and want. Add on a set of tracks, and it’s a true year-round vehicle. It can take the place of a snowmobile, a 4-wheeler or side-by-side and small boat, all in one. It performs on land and water and ice and anything you can throw in its path! Plus you get capacity for cargo, for personnel and for towing a trailer. In less than five minutes, one person can convert it from a stretcher carrier to a pumper or a team transporter.”
“Anyplace there’s lots of bush, water, mud, hiking trails, or ice, the ARGO can do the job,” Atkinson claims. “The worse the terrain is, the better the ARGO performs.”
Paula Barros, Marketing Manager
ARGO Amphibious UTV
220 Bergey Court,
New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada, N3A 2J5
Images courtesy ARGO