Photo by Ben Jackson
St. John’s Regional Fire Department
5 Fort Townshend
People travelling over frozen lakes and rivers will be a little safer this winter, thanks to a new vehicle.
In May Exxon-Mobil donated a hovercraft to the St. John’s Regional Fire Department, a vehicle fire fighters use to help people stranded in the water. It isn’t the province’s first hovercraft; a search and rescue team on the west coast already owns one. It’s the first dedicated to the St. John’s area and the only one owned by a fire department in our province.
“It gives us the mobility to get the rescuer and the victim safely to shore,” says Derek Chafe, superintendant of St. John’s Regional Fire Department.
The hovercraft has already been used in at least a couple rescues. Before it arrived, fire fighters had to crawl onto the ice to get to someone, putting themselves at risk. The hovercraft gives them a safe platform to use, and one that can motor to the scene at up to 80 kilometres per hour on smooth ice.
“It’s a very vital piece of equipment for the safety of the rescuer and victim,” says Chafe. “It speeds our response. We’re able to get deployed and to the victim much faster than we could in the past.”
Hovercrafts work by taking in air and funnelling it downwards to provide a cushion of air over which it hovers. It moves forward with the help of a large fan in the back, making it really interesting to pilot.
“The best comparison our operators put it to is flying a helicopter,” says Chafe. “You’re basically flying four to six inches off the ground. You have to operate it similar to a helicopter because of the cross winds, and those sorts of things affect your performance.”
The hovercraft measures approximately 12 feet by six feet, carries three people, and has a 60 horse power engine. It’s able to cross any relatively flat surface such as ice, snow, water, or sand.
At the time of writing, the hovercraft was visible to passers by through the glass doors.