Love them or loathe them, some 4x4s have heroes as owners

PUBLISHED: 14:15 01 February 2013

Shaun Shand, Chairman of South East 4x4 Response

Shaun Shand, Chairman of South East 4x4 Response

South East 4x4 Response Free Editorial use

They’re the cars known to rule the road – to the impatience of many – but behind the steering wheels of some 4x4s are helping hands putting the bulk of their vehicles to good use.

SE 4X4 responders out in Maidstone in the recent snow.SE 4X4 responders out in Maidstone in the recent snow.

South East 4x4 Response has been in demand in the past couple of weeks.

The volunteer drivers from Kent have been on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, helping assist the emergency services in the snowy weather.

It might have been to ferry hospital staff to work from their homes, as their own cars were too unsafe to drive on icy roads, or to take nurses and midwives to home visits to deliver care.

They were also sent out to help when two trains broke down, taking people back to their own cars or homes.

A responder from South East 4x4 Response launching a rib at BroadstairsA responder from South East 4x4 Response launching a rib at Broadstairs

It is the fourth year that South East 4x4 has been out on the roads and from small beginnings the organisation now has 60 drivers at its disposal in Kent.

Anyone can become a “responder” so long as they have a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Chairman Shaun Shand, from Gravesend, explains that each volunteer is vetted by Kent Police, their driving is monitored, and licence and insurance verified, and basic first aid training is given.

Isle of Wight 2011Isle of Wight 2011

After that – with a car loaded with a radio, shovels, blankets, a fire extinguisher, first aid kit and any other emergency kit – they are ready for action.

The group is often called on by police, ambulance services, Kent County Council and other organisations such as Kent Search and Rescue who rely on South East 4x4 as back-up.

“We are on call 24 hours a day. Someone will phone our call-out number which is diverted to whoever is controller that day who will send a text to all our responders and they will let us know if they can attend,” Shaun says.

The calls come through sporadically. It may be three in a month when people have gone missing, there could be a six-week spell when things are quiet, but in extreme weather conditions the calls are more frequent.

Shaun says: “This morning I was out in Canterbury helping Kent Search and Rescue look for a missing person. When the snow was here we were getting called out all the time. Last week when a train broke down we had to get a train manager out to the stranded passengers.”

One unusual call-out last summer was when the Isle of Wight had heavy rain and music festival-goers needed to be shifted off the island but were unable to leave as their cars were mired in thick mud.

The national 4x4 response network put out a country-wide plea for as many volunteers as possible so Shaun and seven other Kent drivers drove down south to help out.

“We went down with ropes and straps and pulled cars out of the mud,” he says.

That time, Isle of Wight Council reimbursed them for petrol and ferry costs; on other occasions Kent County Council will pay for mileage if it uses the network, but often costs come out of the drivers’ own pockets, and the days they spend out are from their free time.

As for the responders, they come from all backgrounds and ages – there’s a banker, an army cadet instructor and a judge.

The group also relies on support members who aren’t designated drivers but may join responders on calls or handle administration.

They are always looking for new drivers – if you’ve got a 4x4, you’re in.

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