Local Company Aids Global Humanitarian Rescue Efforts

June 20, 2008 9:08:48 PM PDT
A Fresno company will play a big part in rescuing earthquake and flood victims around the globe. Valley-built vehicles will transport the first responders.Some of the search and rescue vehicles just came off the assembly line at Sportsmobile Friday morning. They turned heads as they motored through town on their first test drive. An impressive red caravan through Fresno will soon be repeated around the globe under much more dangerous conditions.

17 search and rescue vehicles have been built by Sportsmobile of Fresno. The vehicles are on their way to Qatar, a small but very wealthy country in the Middle East.

Sportsmobile President Alan Feld said "They probably won't be used in Qatar at all. Their humanitarian mission to the world is they have this elite paramilitary search and rescue team and they deploy these guys anywhere in the world where there's a tsunami, flood, earthquake, any kind of natural disaster."

The 12-gear four-wheel drive search and rescue vehicles were built to be able to reach the worst possible locations. Three have on-board diesel generators. Feld said "They can actually pull up to a hospital or emergency evacuation center where the power grid's out and they can actually plug into the vehicle and the vehicle can run that power center."

Two other Ford vans will be used for canine units. Feld showed how the seats can be moved. "They all flip up like that for gurneys, stretchers. Whatever you want to put in there. We have on-board water systems with a 20-gallon fresh water tank with another 20 gallons on the roof." Three years ago Sportsmobile partnered with Cal-Tech in a two-million dollar Defense Department competition to develop a driverless vehicle. Sportsmobile didn't win but the government of Qatar was so impressed it offered a contract for these vehicles worth more than that award.

Feld first had to check with the US state department before pursuing the project. He quickly learned one thing about Qatar. "It's a small country with a big heart." That's what made him so eager to start production a year ago. Feld expects the vehicles to be shipped by truck to Baltimore next week. From there they'll be flown in C-130 planes to Qatar.

Sportsmobile specializes in camper van conversions but its work on off-road vehicles has obviously paid off.


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