ANSON — When fire crews were called to the scene of a blaze on Black Hill Road in nearby Embden two years ago, the remote location proved a challenge in getting water and equipment to the scene while wind helped the fire to spread.
“We had to walk in just to get to where the fire was and then work,” said Anson Fire Chief Jeremy Manzer. The crew was able to drive a pickup truck about two-thirds of the way to the scene and then drag hose from the dirt road, he said. “The rest of the way it was just manual labor with the guys doing all they could. It was exhausting.”
No one was injured, but the department was unable to put the fire out quickly and the camp was destroyed.
The fire is just one example of some of the challenges rural fire departments face and the need for specialized equipment, said Manzer. The Anson Fire Department responds to about 10 fires a year on dirt roads or in off-road locations, and as a result it is looking for ways to make response more efficient in those areas.
“We don’t have any way to get to them,” Manzer said. “With an ATV we’d be able to load all our equipment and haul it in or carry people in and out of the woods if they are injured. We could actually take the ambulance crew in and drive them out as opposed to having ten or 15 people having to carry an injured person.”
The estimated $25,000 investment to buy an all-terrain vehicle and the equipment to tow it may seem like a lot for a small fire department, but Manzer said he it’s worth the investment. The department is planning to hold fundraisers beginning this month and buy the ATV as soon as possible.
In addition to the steady number of fires reported in places that a firetruck or ambulance can’t get to, there has also been an increase in the number of snowmobile and ATV accidents the department responds to, from about one a year three years ago to about four or five per year in 2013, said Manzer.
Rescues, although less common, can also be difficult for rural fire departments without specialized equipment. One example of a rescue that was hard to access took place on a snowy trail where an injured snowmobiler had to be rescued using another machine that the department borrowed from a rider on the scene, said Manzer. The borrowed snowmobile was used to bring in a rescue sled and carry the person out of the wooded trail, about three miles from a paved road.
It is not unusual for fire departments around the state to have specialized equipment including not only ATV’s but snowmobiles or boats for water rescues, said Daniel Moore, fire chief at the Wells Fire Department and president of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association.
“ATVs and off-road vehicles are a worthwhile investment and an important tool for fire departments to have, especially in wooded areas or on non-paved roads. They can be instrumental in allowing fire departments to provide services,” said Moore.
In York County, where Wells is fire chief, he said approximately 10 out of 29 fire departments have all-terrain vehicles. In addition to preventing damage to fire trucks and other equipment, ATVs can prevent firefighters from getting injured, provide access to railroad tracks or beaches and assist crews in transporting equipment and injured people, he said.
In Solon, the local fire department raised money three years ago to buy a six-wheel ATV to use on fire and rescue calls, said Fire Chief Ronald Brown. The vehicle, which cost about $15,000, has been worth the investment and is used by the department between two and three times per year, he said.
Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 [email protected]