Volunteer Fire Chief Donnan Gives MM the 911 on Multi-Purpose Rescue Vehicle or Unit 9

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You may have noticed the nifty ATV that led the Fire Department in the Winter Parade this year. Perhaps your scout troop visited the firehouse and got to sit on it and check it out in person. That's what I did yesterday when I had a chance to speak with dedicated volunteer Fire Chief Rob Donnan and get a look at the holiday-ready Multi-Purpose Rescue Vehicle, otherwise known as Unit 9.

This ATV can reach people and places where larger fire engines cannot. They can carry enough equipment to keep free the arms of firefighters rushing into dangerous circumstances. They can move injured patients to safety and drive over and around downed trees and power lines with an ease that is not common in the larger rescue vehicles we associate with the normal procedures of firefighting. Its front wench can pull 3500 pounds, enough to raise this vehicle from a hole or wet earth as well as pull another vehicle out of harm's way.

In 2005, during the Van for Jonathan fundraisers that the fire department ran, a large golf cart was used at an event to move both people and items through the crowds. It occurred to Donnan that this vehicle could help the department in exciting new ways and he set out on a quest to find the money to buy one.

The vehicle is registered to and insured with the Borough officially but all funds for the project were raised by private donations. "Extremely generous donations," Donnan added. In May of this year, Cross Country Cycles held a Customer Appreciation Day and Fund Raiser for the Metuchen Fire Department.  Firefighters and their family members assisted at the event where most people first got their first look at Unit 9.  Many private residents and businesses gave the department the funds to buy the ATV. Cross Country gave them the vehicle at cost.

The four-seat configuration provides room for a 4-person crew. Equipped with a rescue basket that can be attached to the roof, the vehicle can also assist as an EMS aid. A first aid kit, an oxygen kit and a defibrillator are being added to the equipment that will travel with Unit 9 into any situation.

Besides transporting crew members and patients, it can carry any variety of items needed for everything from a brush fire on the Greenway to oxygen for firefighters at an emergency scene. At the 2012 Metuchen High School graduation, the vehicle was used to move handicapped residents and their families from one end of the festivities to another. Unit 9 can be altered to fit the particular needs of any event in which it participates.

Unit 9 weighs so little, even when loaded, that it will not make permanent tracks in any ground or on any asphalt, as a bigger machine would. The vehicle requires extensive training, however, to ensure safe and effective operation.  Everything from driving the vehicle across different types of terrain to loading & securing it onto its trailer for transport requires practice.

St. Joseph's High School has allowed the department to train drivers on their fields and the econd part of the training is done along the different sections of the Middlesex County Greenway.  As Donnan writes on the department website, "The unfinished sections between Liberty Street & New Durham Ave and then over to Middlesex Ave are slightly more challenging than the open fields of St Joe's. Traveling along the abandoned rail line, this course is rougher and more confined providing a better test for operators."

Final driver training requires trekking on the nearly completed and heavily traveled portion of the greenway between Middlesex Ave and Pierson Ave. There are fifty firefighters registered to work with the department at this time but only Donnan and a couple of lieutenants are fully trained to man Unit 9.

With Christmas lights twinkling along the roofline, over the newly-installed "scene lighting" that can illuminate any location in the dark, Unit 9 looks like a fun cart to ride around at fairs and functions. However, it is a lifesaving vehicle which gives firefighters much-needed access to difficult terrain and situations. Since it is not an enclosed vehicle, it does expose the rescue team to the elements, which Donnan says will be interesting this winter as they haven't used it in a snowstorm yet. However, he is enthusiastic that it will work as well in winter weather as it does in any other.

Donnan's list for Santa this year includes hand tools and a new rescue basket so we hope that somewhere, the big guy in the red suit will help the strong guy in the protective fire gear who makes sure that Metuchen and area residents are given the utmost protection during dangerous and difficult times.

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