The Fire Department in Van Buren is raising money for a new emergency transport called a Snowbulance, like this one seen on Feb. 7, which will keep patients and paramedics protected from harsh weather conditions. Credit: Courtesy of Van Buren Fire Department

VAN BUREN, Maine — The Van Buren Fire Department is raising money for new off-road emergency equipment that will change the way patients receive care after a crash on remote winter trails.

The specialized, enclosed snowmobile — called a Snowbulance — will allow medical care to start at the scene of a crash and keep both patients and rescuers out of harsh weather conditions.

Fire Chief Brian Caron said his crew had first seen the Snowbulance used by Fort Kent and North Lakes Fire and Rescue out of Westmanland, but with a $12,000 price tag, the department figured its current toboggan used for emergency transportation would be enough. However, with a recent crash that took place 5 miles out on a snowmobile trail, the firefighters decided it was time for a change. 

“That’s valuable time, especially when you’re five miles out – that’s a good 15- to 20-minute ride there in the back of that boggan,” Caron said. “With the boggan we have now, we access the patient on the scene but we can’t continue care until we get to the ambulance because it’s just not feasible with the snow boggan. With the Snowbulance you can actually start patient care immediately, whether it’s CPR or IV, cutting the snowmobile suit off the guy, girl, the kid, whoever is injured.” 

According to Caron, 10 years ago snowmobilers really wouldn’t ride in harsh conditions like they do now. During the warmer months, most trail-goers used only four-wheelers so when it would rain, it was common to not see anyone on the trails. 

Now the enclosed side-by-sides with heated cabs and air conditioning, newer snowmobiles and more sophisticated clothing make for an uptick of the amount of people riding on the trails, causing a greater concern for first responders responding to accidents in all types of weather and not just ideal conditions. 

“With that being said, when we do respond, we usually have two firefighters on the snowmobile and two EMTs or paramedics in the snow boggan,” Caron said. “So by the time you get to the accident, you get buried in the snow dust from the snow machine, and then you’re dealing with the cold weather. That’s a big concern because by the time you find the accident, the EMT’s fingers are frozen and that doesn’t help.”

The new Snowbulance will keep paramedics and patients protected from the elements and allow for patient care to begin as soon as the rescue takes place so that by the time the patient arrives at an ambulance, responders will already have a good idea as to what ailments will need to be treated. An additional benefit to the Snowbulance is that it is fully suspended off of the ground. 

“The open boggan we have, you’re riding right flat on the bottom of it, there’s no suspension.” Caron said.  “You’re riding on whatever elements you’re riding on versus the Snowbulance you’re riding on complete suspension so it’s really a comfortable ride, actually, compared to what we have.”

With an additional wheel-kit, the Snowbulance’s ski’s can be replaced so that it will be functional year-round as emergency transportation on ATV trails. 
Though the fire department has already raised $8,200 for the Snowbulance through various fundraisers and donations, they still need another $3,800 to meet their goal. Anyone looking to donate can call Caron at the number listed on the department’s Facebook page or send a donation to 51 Main St. in Van Buren.