By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURY -- Over rocks and across beaches, through woods and water, the Newbury Emergency Management Agency’s new all-wheel-drive Argo vehicle can go just about anywhere.
That flexibility comes in handy should police, fire or emergency officials need to respond to a medical aid call, a brush fire, conduct a rescue, or survey erosion damage on Plum Island.
Earlier this week, emergency officials tested out the new vehicle, which replaces an identically named, but much smaller and less powerful version, to get a better sense of how it will operate on the field.
The 31-horsepower, rugged rubber track vehicle can seat six at speeds of about 20 mph. Its newer liquid-cooled engine design makes it more fuel efficient, better in the heat and allows for great mobility on the harshest of terrains. The town’s older vehicle, a 2006 version featured plastic tracks, is an 18-horsepower, air-cooled engine and less passenger space.
“It’s very nimble, it can go anywhere,” Newbury police Deputy Chief John Lucey Jr. said of the new Argo.
The town purchased the new Argo for $24,906, using remaining funds from a bond authorization that paid for the capping of a landfill. Approximately, $55,000 was left over for the capping project and through a Town Meeting vote, the money was earmarked toward purchasing the new Argo and the future purchase of a new police cruiser, according to Town Administrator Tracy Blais.
Blais added that it took approval from the State Legislature to allow the remaining bond authorization funds to go before residents at Town Meeting.
Selectman Chuck Bear and Blais, who was admittedly skeptical of the need for the Argo upon her first months as town administrator, said the old vehicle proved its worth and the time had come to replace it.
Lucey agreed saying that the old Argo proved to just about everyone how useful it was in allowing responders to tackle the most difficult of situations. He specifically pointed to its usefulness during the recent string of powerful winter storms that knocked several homes off their foundations and led to the demolition of six residences. The Argo was used to assess damage, patrol beaches that had been closed to the public and oversee other operations.
“It has absolutely proved indispensable for any beach response,” Lucey said.
Even without leaving its garage, the new Argo has proved invaluable to the town as it helped cement the police department’s recent acceptance into the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council. NEMLEC is a 54-member consortium of law enforcement agencies which pool its resources to tackle major operations. Membership means Newbury will have access to a wide range of equipment and personnel, including SWAT teams, school threat assessment squads, motorcycle programs and other assets.
While the new Argo features flashing blue lights and could be mistaken for a police vehicle, the vehicle is under the control of the town’s Emergency Management Agency directed by police Chief Michael Reilly. Two police officers, a firefighter and an emergency management employee are the only four authorized to operate the vehicle.
However, the vehicle is easy enough for anyone to operate, as long as they stick to a paved parking lot, Lucey added.