Humvees refurbished into special rides for search and rescue group

DEEMI vehicle.  Humsearch 3
DEEMI vehicle. Humsearch 3
Posted Nov. 19, 2010, at 2:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:49 a.m.
DEEMI vehicle.  Humsearch 4
DEEMI vehicle. Humsearch 4
DEEMI vehicle. HUMSEARCH 1.jpg
DEEMI vehicle. HUMSEARCH 1.jpg

LIMESTONE, Maine — Nationally recognized for their ability to turn clunkers into unstoppable forces, employees of the Maine Military Authority recently volunteered their skills to completely rebuild two formerly unusable 1984 Humvees for search and rescue operations.

The refurbished High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles were handed over to the Down East Emergency Medicine Institute during a ceremony on Nov. 9 at the primary MMA facility at the Loring Commerce Centre.

MMA volunteers didn’t just refurbish the two vehicles, they loaded them up with all the bells and whistles that a search and rescuer dreams of, from fording technology that lets the vehicles drive through chest-deep water to two 12,000-pound winches mounted on the front of both vehicles to ensure that the searchers never get stuck themselves.

“These vehicles are unstoppable,” said Bob Jandreau, general manager of MMA, which employs 370 workers who have refurbished nearly 10,000 Humvees over the years for the Army National Guard.

While MMA employees are known for their charitable nature — MMA has been a top contributor during the annual Walk for Care at Cary Medical Center, for example — a huge donation of this caliber isn’t routine.

But both MMA employees and other local donors to the project remembered DEEMI’s willingness to help out in 2007 to help locate a 3-year-old Fort Fairfield child who had fallen into the Aroostook River. It was through DEEMI’s volunteer efforts that the body was eventually recovered.

“DEEMI contacted MMA to see how much it would cost to refurbish both Humvees, and we were more than eager to help out,” Jandreau said, “especially since they came into our backyard when they were needed.”

Clearly others at MMA have similar thoughts regarding the organization, for during the project’s planning phase when Jandreau put out a call for volunteers, every single person returned his e-mail agreeing to donate time to what many described as a worthy and noble cause.

“It’s for a good cause and while we hope we don’t have to see them in action, they can hopefully use these vehicles to save someone’s life,” said MMA Body Shop Superintendent Dave Prentiss, who has been with MMA since the company began roughly 13 years ago.

While MMA volunteers did make the project possible, they were also helped out with donations from Carquest and DuPont of Caribou, Caldwell Auto LLC of Limestone and Sullivan’s Transportation of Old Town.

The unstoppable nature of the vehicles will certainly help DEEMI volunteers in their searches, said Dr. Robert Bowie, medical director of DEEMI, who attended the Nov. 9 ceremony. With the right volunteers and in any average scenario, the new and improved Humvees will bring search and rescue teams closer to the patients, reduce volunteer fatigue, not to mention the scouting vehicle potential and how much of the Maine woods that the vehicles can make their own road through, he said. It’ll make search and rescue easier for (and on) the volunteers.

The effort has had DEEMI search and rescuers — all 180 of them — excited and energized, Bowie said.

“It helps focus our efforts toward what we need to do,” he said.

Of the 180 search and rescue volunteers, only about 10 are qualified to drive the brand new vehicles that have been dubbed, DEEMI 1 and DEEMI 2.

“We’d always hoped for a vehicle like this,” Bowie said. “The heart and soul they poured into these vehicles to make them right; they’re priceless. It’s far more than we ever expected.”

Additional information regarding DEEMI can be obtained by visiting www.deemi.org.

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