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New ATV a Welcome Addition to Police, Fire Departments

May 29, 2015 06:00AM ● Published by Kenneth Hamwey

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Poirier & Police Lt. James Russell with the newly acquired ATV.

There’s a new Gator in town that will bring a smile to members of the Bellingham Police and Fire departments and a frown to individuals illegally operating all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
The Gator in this case is a John Deere Gator, an ATV with a three-cylinder, 80-horsepower engine that can reach a speed of 47 mph. It also is equipped with a siren, high-powered spotlights, emergency response lights, aggressive tires, fire extinguishers, a medic kit, a Stokes basket (metal stretcher) and a rescue winch. The vehicle can safely transport one patient and one paramedic, and the cab can seat two additional first-responders.

“The vehicle will be used by police to combat the increasing trend of off-road vehicle operation,” said Police Lieutenant James Russell. “This growing trend has resulted in the destruction of property (private, public and commercial) and the erosion of quality of life for residents who live near trails and sand pits. The town of Bellingham also has been a victim because ATV riders have been cutting guard rails, removing concrete and gate barriers, dumping illegally, and removing or vandalizing signage, fencing and buildings. Our wetlands are also being damaged by vehicles going ‘mudding.’”

Russell, who has worked for the Bellingham Police Department for 27 years, notes that taxpayers ultimately have to foot the bill for damage. “In some cases, residents are impacted twice,” he said, “once by their own property being damaged and again for town property that’s damaged.”

The fire department will use the vehicle for rescue situations in remote areas that could involve an ATV or motorcycle accident or for a lost or injured hiker. The vehicle is built to maneuver in difficult terrain, such as walking paths, sand pits and also the network of ATV trails that have been illegally created over the years.

“The new ATV will also assist firefighters dealing with brush fires,” said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Poirier. “It also can be used for medical emergencies that might occur during our July 4 celebration. It’s able to get into nooks and crannies.”

 Poirier added that “without an ATV, valuable resources can be wasted.” He said that last year the fire department responded to five ATV crashes in remote areas that tied up personnel and equipment. “Sometimes it can take six to 12 firefighters to get a crash victim removed from a remote area, then to a hospital,” Poirier emphasized.

Russell said that an ATV violation occurs when an operator is trespassing on or causing destruction to private property or operating on public roadways. Loud and disturbing noise also is a problem that generates complaints from residents.

“ATV violators in Bellingham can usually be found riding on walking trails, at sand pits, on illegal ATV trails, school property, public roadways, commercial property and at the recycling center,” Russell said. “Fines can be up to $300 for violations of the town bylaw and as much as $1,000 or more for violating the state’s general laws.”

In addition to the town’s bylaw, here are a few examples of some of the other fines—$500 for motor vehicle trespassing; $500 for property damage; $500 for an unregistered vehicle with no license-plate display; $250 for not wearing a helmet; $250 for an improper operator; $250 for operating on a public way, with a $1,000 fine for a subsequent offense. All other motor vehicle laws apply, such as improper passing, operating under the influence, operating to endanger and leaving the scene.

The Gator cost $25,435, but $8,435 of that figure came from a Massachusetts Emergency Management grant that Poirier had applied for. That amount enabled the town to acquire the vehicle for a net cost of $17,000, which was appropriated at Town Meeting last year. Poirier said that the vehicle will be housed at the fire department and checked weekly for operational use. The vehicle arrived in mid-April and for two weeks was prepped for response.
The lettering, which clearly identifies the ATV as property of the Bellingham Fire and Police departments, was done without charge by Marty’s Auto Service, which also applied non-slip painting and installed the emergency lights.

“Both departments will operate the vehicle with only trained personnel, and it will be used on a need basis,” said Poirier, who’s been a firefighter for 21 years. “Both departments discussed the need for such a vehicle about five years ago. Police Chief (Gerry) Daigle, Fire Chief (Steve) Gentile and Town Administrator Denis Fraine played a role in helping to secure the ATV.”
Other nearby towns, such as Milford, Medway and Mendon, have similar vehicles. “After the 9-11 attacks in 2001, area towns started to apply for money that was available to acquire an ATV that could patrol areas near gas and power lines, wells and reservoirs,” Russell said.  “There definitely is a move, or trend, for public safety departments to have this type of vehicle.”
The new Gator is a welcome addition on two fronts—for rescue operations in difficult terrain and for monitoring dirt-bike operators violating local and state laws.
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