RIDGELAND — A cross between a truck and a boat built by a small South Carolina company is designed to help respond in a new world of increasingly wet disasters brought on by global warming.
The Amphibious Responder, depending on configuration, can serve as everything from a fire engine to a search and rescue boat to an environmental response vehicle dealing with oil spills both on land and water.
As a rescue vehicle, it can carry 15 people and has a ladder at the front that can extend to the third floor of a building. It has a patented foam-filled hull construction making it almost impossible to sink.
With both a boat motor and a second engine to power it on land, it can speed at 70 mph down a highway, make more than 8 mph in the water and can enter the water virtually anywhere without the need for a boat ramp.
The Responder’s oversized tires make it capable of traveling across debris on land.
A few decades ago, there wouldn’t have been a market for it, said John Giljam, who designed and builds the vehicle in this small town about 30 miles north of Savannah.
“Twenty years ago, a disaster was just an isolated incident,” he said. “But now there are more storms and the smaller storms are creating more havoc.”
He said the Responder is uniquely designed to handle some of the disaster scenes that have seared the national consciousness in recent years.
During Superstorm Sandy, 80 homes were destroyed in Queens, N.Y., as firefighters evacuated people by boat.
In the 1997 Red River Flood in Grand Forks, N.D., 11 buildings burned in the downtown because flood waters kept fire crews from reaching the area.
Then there were the hundreds of people in New Orleans waiting on roofs for help after Hurricane Katrina.
The company Giljam runs with his wife, Julie, is called CAMI, or Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International. They started out manufacturing amphibious vehicles for tourism. Now, though, Giljam sees the company’s future in building the Responder.
“Even before Katrina, I had the idea I wanted to build a purpose-built search and rescue vehicle,” he said. “When Katrina hit, it even drove us more to that side.”
Giljam completed the first one several months ago.
He has an order for 20 of the vehicles from the government of Thailand, and the first is being shipped this week. Since Sandy, he has received dozens of inquiries from governments in the Northeast.
Since the company sees the Responder being used around the world, the drivetrain can be configured differently, Julie Giljam said.
“It’s modular so we don’t care what the engine is, if it’s a Ford or a Toyota or a Mercedes,” she said. “Because we are in other countries we have to have the flexibility” so customers can get parts locally.
With more storms affecting more areas, Giljam said the Responder should be attractive to governments.
The vehicle costs about $450,000 depending on configuration, while a fire engine can run about $300,000, he said.