The vehicle is able to traverse some of the most brutal terrain and in military situations can be fitted with an array of machine guns — even a small cannon.
"The thing is amphibious," Dustin Willett, the director of Pennington County Emergency Management, said.
But the Rapid City Fire Department's recently purchased, $95,000 Hägglunds Bandvagn 206 — a Swedish-built, decommissioned all-terrain military vehicle — will be used to bolster the city's emergency response and evacuation capabilities during the Black Hills' next mega-blizzard.
"This particular vehicle, this model, is becoming more and more popular in search and rescue applications," Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne said. "It's a pretty remarkable vehicle and really adaptive to any type of surface."
The tank-like Bandvagn boasts a main cabin and a pull-behind trailer. Aside from the cabin, the trailer is fitted with rubber tank tracks rather than wheels to provide "all-wheel-drive" capabilities at both ends.
The impetus behind purchasing such an impressive piece of equipment hails back to the October blizzard that produced 70 mph wind gusts and dumped more than four feet of snow in the region, downing countless trees and branches and essentially crippling the Black Hills.
The storm highlighted several inadequacies in the city's response capability, Maltaverne said.
At the height of the Oct. 4 blizzard, which occurred late Friday and early Saturday, police and fire personnel were paralyzed for about 14 hours and only snowmobiles could be used for emergency response.
"That's a position that is really unacceptable to our agencies," Maltaverne said. "When people call for service, they have an expectation that we'll get there, and that night we couldn't."
Willett said the situation posed two prominent issues: A limited ability to evacuate residents since snowmobiles can only hold two people and excessive damage to the public vehicles' metal tracks from repeatedly driving them over the roads that were plowed to get to inaccessible areas.
With road-friendly rubber tracks, the city's new Bandvagn can carry up to 17 people and rescue them even if they're stranded in Pactola Reservoir.
"This adds an incredible amount of capability to respond in those types of situations," Willett said.
The Bandvagn was part of a $663,000 list of equipment that city officials say is needed to better respond to such a disastrous storm.
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The Fire Department has requested another roughly $90,000 for incident management equipment and removable snow tracks to put on other vehicles.
Meanwhile, the Public Works Department is looking for $250,000 to buy a new snowplow.
"It's a big six-by-six, all-wheel-drive plow, just a lot bigger than we would normally have in our fleet," Public Works Director Terry Wolterstorff said. "This one will push through a lot more snow."
The Parks and Recreation Department also has a wish list of equipment, including:
- $42,000 for a Ford F550 4x4 truck
- $20,000 for a chipper box for the truck
- $48,000 for a pull-behind chipper
- $68,000 for a skid-steer tractor
- $30,000 for a chipper-mulcher attachment
"Those are all something they could use in a lot of different circumstances," Wolterstorff said.
The departments will likely get an official green light to purchase the equipment by the Rapid City Council today during its 6:30 meeting at the City-School Administration Center at 300 Sixth St.
Having already been approved, buying the Bandvagn was fast-tracked for fear it would sell before the city could snag it. Maltaverne said the Bandvagn was one of two available in the nation. Both were in Colorado.
"We were able to find some others; one is in Canada," Maltaverne said, adding that a couple of firefighters were sent to Colorado for a three-day training session on the vehicle. "They came back and they were very, very impressed and felt that it would really improve our capabilities to respond to calls for service during significant winter events."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency does offer grant assistance for municipalities to increase hazard mitigation capabilities. The agency, however, usually doesn't fund equipment purchases, Maltaverne said. So the city will foot the entire bill.
Maltaverne said the Bandvagn is currently in storage but will be up and running this week. The machine still dons its military paint scheme but he said the department will repaint and properly equip it in the coming months.
"Right now, it looks like a decommissioned piece of military equipment, pretty rough around the edges," Maltaverne said.