Truck of all trades Emergency unit to roll in UC
by Dylan M. Archilla Reporter Staff Writer
Apr 25, 2003 | 626 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Responding to the differing needs of a radically changed world, the Union City Board of Commissioners last week began soliciting bids to purchase an Emergency Services Unit for the city of Union City. The vehicle will also be utilized by surrounding towns, including West New York, should the need arise.

Emergency Services Units are specially-designed trucks that can carry a vast array of equipment that could be used in just about any given emergency situation. They can be used by ambulance squads, fire departments and police departments. Usually, Emergency Services Units fall under the auspices of police departments, and this is the case in Union City.

As demonstrated on September 11, 2001, having the equipment and manpower that can respond to what is known as a "mass casualty" situation is crucial.

According to Union City Clerk Michael Licamelli, a bid has already been sent in by Odyssey Emergency Vehicles, a Wharton, N.J.-based company that specializes in customizing and building emergency vehicles. Whether it is for police or fire departments or for ambulance corps, Odyssey can construct a custom unit that will fit the particular needs of each town.

According to Odyssey officials, "Odyssey was established in 1979 and manufactures First Response, EMS, Fire Chief, Command Units, specialty law enforcement and commercial vehicles based on sport utility vehicles, vans, trucks and light rescues. All conversions are completely custom built to order. Odyssey has been recognized as a sole source vendor to many state and federal agencies due to flexibility and response to customer needs and requirements."

And according to Odyssey salesperson Kelly Gallagher, Union City has chosen what Odyssey calls their "TAU" or "Technical Assistance Unit." This unit, which is mounted on a Ford F-550 Super Duty chassis that has a GVU (Gross Vehicle Weight) of 17,500 pounds, is outfitted with all manner of custom electrical, lighting and rescue equipment. Said Gallagher in a recent telephone interview, "This vehicle really covers everything."

Union City Fleet Coordinator Jose Gutierrez is particularly looking forward to getting the vehicle into the fleet. Said Gutierrez, "We are modeling the unit directly after the New York City Emergency Services Units. It will have everything for an emergency. It's a first responder truck. It will have on-board generators, special lighting, specialized communications equipment as well as a variety of riot gear."

According to a 2001 press release from Odyssey announcing the New York City Emergency Services Units, "...these vehicles are designed to withstand the vigorous service demanded by the New York City streets while filling the needs of the NYPD." The release continues, "The doors are a custom fabricated 2" thick double panel design on a continuous hinge for years of dependable service, and the electrical system features plug-in components along with function coded GXL (heavy duty) wiring in custom manufactured harness systems for consistence and dependability."

What all that means is that Union City will be getting a tough, heavy duty service vehicle that will spend very little time in the garage and a lot of time doing what it was made for - answering to the needs of just about any given emergency situation that may arise.

Many of the towns in Hudson County have their own Emergency Services Units. Some differ in design and function but all are meant to assist in any situation that requires specialized equipment.

Mutual aid

According to Tom Molta, president of the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Hoboken has three specialized units.

Said Molta, "We have a 'mass casualty' unit, which we used on September 11, 2001. It has cots and all manner of specialized medical equipment. We also have a 'field communications unit,' which is a converted school bus. It becomes the medical command center in a disaster. We also have a 'first responder' vehicle, which is a 1996 Jeep Cherokee. This vehicle is used for a variety of things. It brings extra people to a scene if needed, and can also be used as an extra ambulance if we put the rear seats down."

According to Hoboken Fire Department Deputy Chief Richard Blohm, Hoboken also has a Haz-Mat (Hazardous Materials) vehicle. Said Blohm, "Most towns have the same types of vehicles, but not all of them have the need." Hoboken is one of only three towns in all of Hudson County to have its own dedicated HazMat vehicle. The other two are Jersey City and Bayonne.

What this means is that if a HazMat call occurs in Union City, the nearest town that has a HazMat vehicle (in this case Hoboken) would be called out in what is known as a "Mutual Aid" situation. "Mutual Aid" is basically a fancy way of describing when one town's emergency services help another town in a fire or disaster of any sort.

Union City is also one of five towns that is serviced by the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue squad when it comes to fires.

According to Union City Police Department grant writer Lt. Nilsa Garcia, Police Capt. Joe Blaettler was the major force in persuading the Union City commissioners that this type of unit was needed.

Said Blaettler, "It (the ESU) was something that we needed for a long time. After 9/11, it really showed that help is not always available. I want Union City to be able to help itself."

According to Blaettler, the vehicle will be equipped with the Jaws of Life, a chainsaw, airbags (to lift wrecked cars) and thermal imaging units. Those using it will undergo a three-year comprehensive training program.

Said Blaettler, "Officers will be trained in three phases: dealing with barricaded suspects and hostage situations, handling emotionally disturbed individuals, and handling violent animals. Everyone involved in the ESU program will be re-certified in CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation), the use of defibrillators as well as heavy rescue techniques. We also have a couple of officers who have taken it upon themselves to enter sniper school."

Said Union City Mayor Brian Stack, "This is going to be a tremendous vehicle for the residents of Union City. Union City will finally be well-equipped to deal with any problem that may occur."

Stack and the Union City commissioners have, as of late, been attempting to update Union City's emergency and public works vehicles. Recently, a bid was accepted for two Harley-Davidson Police motorcycles and another bid was accepted to purchase two MADVAC street sweepers. The Emergency Services Unit can now be added to that list.

Certainly, the events of September 11, 2001 are still on everyone's collective mind. The events of that fateful day taught many lessons, particularly to the area's Emergency Responders, police, fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services). The lesson is that you can never be "too prepared".

The vehicle, according to Lt. Garcia, will cost approximately $76,000 and will be paid for with federal Law Enforcement Block Grants.

Union City Police Captain Joe Blaettler expects an end-of Summer delivery date for the vehicle.
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