PARKER, Colo. (CBS4)– It may not look like your typical rescue rig, but South Metro Fire Rescue’s snow-cat is an important life-saving tool for the agency. The white, two-cab tracked vehicle is designed to respond in blizzards or heavy snow. SMFR uses it to access areas ordinary fire trucks and emergency units can’t get to.
South Metro decided to add the snow-cat to its fleet following a blizzard in 2003. Capt. Andy Powell explained the storm was so bad, first responders couldn’t get to people who were in need of help.
“We had a blizzard that dropped 30 inches of snow in the metro area. We literally had one apparatus that could get in and get citizens out, and that was our aircraft rescue fire truck,” he told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “So that got us thinking, what can we do to help the citizens out a little bit better?”
The snow-cat can traverse winter conditions with ease, even tackle steep snow drifts and hills.
“It performs best on hard-packed [snow] just because we’re able to get more traction,” firefighter Andrew Pavone, a trained operator of the vehicle, said.
And, in rescue situations, the vehicle can carry up to 11 passengers in its second cab, equipped with safety gear and wool blankets. It is also a safe place for first responders to treat any injured patients.
“We can use this as a place for [people] to get warm as well as transfer them over to a roadway to get rescued from there,” Pavone said.
Though it is called a snow-cat, SMFR is prepared to use the all-terrain vehicle in more than just snow.
“It works very well in mud, dirt, rocks,” Powell explained. “It’s even amphibious. It can go across water.”
Powell said the vehicle will respond to calls year-round. For instance, if hikers are stranded in rough terrain or if there’s an emergency with no access roads nearby.
“A couple of years ago, we had a plane crash south of Centennial Airport and it took us about two hours to get on scene because of the terrain,” Powell said. “Now we can get on scene quicker and provide care faster.”
And Pavone said he is ready to answer the call, no matter where it may be.
“Looking at South Metro as a whole, we have different environments in our districts,” Pavone said. “We have high rise buildings, we have densely populated areas, but out to the south and to the eastern parts of our district, we still have rural country. We have a commitment to those members in those rural environments to be able to respond to their emergencies just like anybody else.”
Other agencies in the region also have snow-cats – including Elizabeth Fire, Castle Rock Fire, Denver Fire and more.