published: 6 May 2014
by: Kevin Rushworth
As members of the High River Fire Department (Alberta, Canada) revved up the engine on their newly acquired airboat, a deafening roar turned residents’ attention toward an exciting demonstration at the Town’s Emergency Preparedness Expo — as firefighters showcased the craft’s unique abilities.
Len Zebedee, High River’s fire chief, said they had only just received the Air Ranger on April 28 and that the firefighters were gaining some experience behind the throttle.
“We’ve been looking and trying out different boats for the last four or five years,” Zebedee told the Times. “We’ve tried hovercrafts, an outboard motor and it just didn’t work for our river basin.”
The boat manufacturer travelled to High River in order to teach our first responders how to use the craft. Zebedee said it was all about seeing what the boat could do and how to be safe while operating it.
“This is more versatile because it will go on land,” he said. “We can go over grass, snow, ice, stubble fields. Certainly mud and stuff like that it might have some difficulty with, if it’s really thick (and) heavy.”
During the immediate crisis stage of the 2013 flood, the High River fire department saw Strathcona’s firefighters in action in their own airboat. Zebedee said the craft’s maneuverability worked well.
“It’s more versatile for rescues and obviously in our area, we do get floodwaters and high water, so we wanted to be prepared for it,” Zebedee added. “It was a good opportunity.”
The airboat, which has a Kevlar frame, operates thanks to a massive propeller on the rear of the craft which pushes it up and allows the boat to glide over land and water.
“It has areas it can’t go,” Zebedee explained. “If the river is really flowing high and swift with a lot of debris, we would have to be careful to do it. That would be a judgement call by our operators.”
As the High River fire department gains more experience in the boat, Zebedee said they would be more able to make that decision in a time of crisis.
“As they get more hours on the boat, then they’ll be able to tell, but then (again), they have to be quite cautious because its got a high centre of gravity,” he said.
Last year, many boats had their propellers snapped and many boats became unusable during the flood crisis. After the flood, it was time to seek out another watercraft, Zebedee said.
“After 2013, we were very limited in some of the rescues we could do, simply because we didn’t have the maneuverability or the equipment to do it,” he said. “Having this piece of equipment is just another tool in our tool box.”