Red Deer Emergency Services’ airboat is perfect for rescues on the river when there is both ice and open water. (Photo from City of Red Deer)

Red Deer Emergency Services’ airboat is perfect for rescues on the river when there is both ice and open water. (Photo from City of Red Deer)

Red Deer’s airboat helps with rescues year-round

Red Deer Emergency Services was one of the first Alberta municipalities to deploy an airboat and it has already paid off.

Most recently, last March when someone slipped on ice on the Red Deer River and injured their ankle. Conveniently, the airboat was already on the river for a training exercise and was soon on scene.

“Our ambulance crews and our fire crews couldn’t reach them safely from the roadway and area,” explained Curtis Schaefer, assistant deputy chief with Red Deer Emergency Services.

“So the boat was deployed and it was able to get up on the ice shelf close to the individual. They loaded them in and transported them to the boat launch and then transferred to the ambulance crew.”

RDES bought the airboat in February 2019 after Strathcona County demonstrated the usefulness of the craft, which has a very shallow draft because it is powered by a giant plane-like propeller that can generate 6,000 pounds of thrust. By comparison, the engine of a small plane, such as a Cessna 172 might generate in the range of 500 pounds of thrust.

Versatility was the main attraction for buying the $120,000, which was built by Red Deer County-based Outlaw Eagle Manufacturing Ltd.

“The driver behind it was to give us more of a year-round option for rescues,” Schaefer said.

“We consider it more of a rescue platform than a boat. That’s because it can also be used in the wintertime on the ice, it can go across a grass field or a wheat field. It’s designed to cross any smooth surfaces.”

RDES was equipped with a river jet boat and a Zodiac inflatable boat. But the airboat can get places that other boats can’t.

“It’s really opened up the year-round access for rescue potential and access to patients on the river’s edge or just off in areas that a vehicle can’t respond to.

“It works really well in the early winter and the late spring when we have that ice and water combination. You can travel over both without any issues,” he said.

It is those times of year when people tend to get in trouble on the river because the ice is thin.

The airboat has now replaced the river jet boat, which was returned to its builder, Outlaw Eagle, which sold it for the city.

“Air boats aren’t very common in Alberta or in the Prairies. They’re more of a swamp-type boat or a marsh-type boat.”

But airboats work well on terrain more common to this area. They have already practised running the boat up and out of the water onto nearby grassed areas and then steering it back into the water. It worked like a charm.

“We haven’t had to use it for a rescue in that situation but it does work well,” Schaefer said.

Having a local builder was a big advantage.

“Going with a local builder allowed us to work with them through the design phase and build and we were able to check in regularly to make sure it was meeting our needs.”

About two dozen fire-medics have been trained on the airboat. They must log a number of hours on it each year to maintain their proficiency.

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