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The Badger: Tactical response redefined

June 19, 2024

Chris Gantz, CEO of JHB Group, discusses the innovative Overland Response Unit, the Badger, designed to enhance efficiency in emergency response

The JHB Group, based in Lake In The Hills, Illinois’s latest creation, The Badger, is an Overland Response Unit designed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response efforts.

With a background as a firefighter paramedic, Chris Gantz, CEO and founder of JHB Group’s journey in fire protection and prevention is rooted in a commitment to public safety.

“I was a firefighter paramedic just outside the city of Chicago. Unfortunately, I was injured on the job and had to retire,” Gantz recounts.

Like many firefighters, Gantz had a side job while working, creating a fire safety activity centre in Chicago.

“This centre operated successfully for almost 10 years, attracting thousands of visitors for various activities, including field trips, prevention activities, team-building exercises, and even birthday parties, all related to firefighting,” he tells.

The success of this venture laid the foundation for further innovation: “From this venture, we developed mobile units to facilitate more events, leading to the creation of our core product, the fire safety simulator.”

The adaptability of these simulators became particularly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gantz elaborates: “Our fire safety simulators evolved into health incident trailers during the pandemic thanks to their advanced infrastructure like solar charging and low voltage power systems.”

This evolution did not stop there.

The simulators paved the way for the development of more specialised units, such as dive rescue, arson investigation, and confined space training units.

The realisation of the need for practical Incident Command assets led to the birth of The Badger.

This unit is poised to redefine emergency response with its advanced capabilities and practical design, embodying the core values of the JHB Group: simplicity, real-world experience, and common sense.

Thriving in the wild

Traditionally, says Gantz, incident command units were built for rare, significant events but were often cumbersome and required extensive manpower.

To address this, the team at JHB developed The Badger: a small, efficient incident command unit.

“It’s designed to be simple, reliable, and operable by one person, ensuring it’s ready for any situation, even on Christmas Eve at 2am,” says Gantz.

This is the philosophy behind the Badger’s development, making it a compact, robust, and reliable asset: “That was kind of how the Badger has evolved – we took all of the guts of incident command and put it into a 13 foot little kick-ass, take-names type of asset.”

On the name, Gantz says they wanted to embrace a symbol and an animal that represents their compact design philosophy: “Many people don’t realise what a badger, particularly a honey badger, embodies. It appears simple and innocent but can take a punch and keep going.

“In the fire service, you often see assets that look impressive and polished but can’t handle off-road conditions or require a large truck and generator to operate.

“These assets end up sitting in a garage, rarely used.”

They wanted something that could thrive in the wild, just like a badger.

“Our products are often used in disaster management and response, so choosing an animal that can take a beating and keep moving made sense – this is why we named it the Badger,” Gantz explains.

Primary capabilities

The Badger is designed to be a modular unit, allowing for various configurations to meet different needs.

“Every asset we build has dual purposes to ensure versatility,” explains Gantz.

“For instance, our health units can also be used for incident command, prehab/rehab, or arson investigation.

“This versatility is crucial because agencies typically purchase these assets infrequently, perhaps once every 20 years.”

The Badger offers command capabilities with data connectivity, power, lighting, and communication systems.

It also includes configurations for drone operations, urban incidents, and wildfire management.

Its wildfire capability, for example, allows a fuel tank to be installed for drip torches.

In disaster management, the Badger can serve multiple community needs, such as communications, data connectivity and providing essentials like water during emergencies.

“It’s designed to be compact and quickly deployable, featuring solar charging and other power solutions, along with a 270-degree awning and walls for privacy,” says Gantz, altogether making the Badger a highly flexible and efficient tool for a variety of operational scenarios.

The response to the Badger has, he says, has been broadly positive: “The Badger was launched in late fall of last year.

“We haven’t done much marketing yet because we’re currently moving our production facility and are backlogged with existing orders. However, the initial feedback has been great.

“For example, the city of New Orleans in Louisiana faced an underground wildfire in a marsh field.

“They couldn’t get command or surveillance vehicles out to the site because it was on levees, restricting access to larger vehicles.

“They found us and placed an order for multiple units within a week—one for the police department and one for the fire department.

These units will be used for a variety of activities, including fire and rescue, disaster management, and drone operations.”

Partnerships

One of the more unique aspects of the Badger is its ability to operate in different environments, especially off-road.

This vehicle integrates Michelin’s X TWEEL technology, an airless radial tire designed for rugged all-terrain performance, with JHB Group’s expertise in specialized vehicles for public safety agencies.

The Badger’s ability to operate off-road and be towed by an ATV enables command units to access otherwise unreachable incidents.

This flexibility, along with the durability of the Michelin’s X TWEEL tires, ensures continuous operation in emergency response scenarios, minimizing downtime due to punctures and impressing users with its reliability and adaptability.

All Badger rigs are equipped with modern communication systems.

“We rely heavily on iPads and tablets, and when using drones, we need to stream or display information efficiently,” says Gantz.

JHB Group has partnered with Peplink for wireless and data connectivity.

“Their products are oriented towards public safety, which is ideal for our needs.

“They offer bonded systems with dual SIM capabilities, and we also have Starlink integration for our units.”

Another important partner is Hypha, which provides an encrypted wireless mesh network.

This allows the Badger to serve as a base of operations, enabling users to extend a wireless network up to three miles, even in difficult environments, making it particularly useful for disaster recovery, as it keeps crews connected to the base or the Badger.

The unit also deploys TecNiq lighting solutions.

“They offer a lifetime warranty on their lights, including a 30,000-lumen scene light that can be mounted on a telescoping bracket for enhanced visibility,” says Gantz.

“Their support has helped us take our lighting capabilities to the next level.

“We’re very proud and humbled by what we’ve achieved with these partnerships. We have multiple orders and are now going global.

“For instance, we have a unit going to the US Army in the Marshall Islands, a remote location that recently suffered from a tsunami and flood.

“The Badger will be deployed there to provide essential command capabilities later this year.”

Future plans

The current Badger units in production have undergone enhancements since its launch.

Gantz tells that they have made the box itself a foot wider on both sides, increasing storage and compartment space without changing the overall footprint.

The power systems remain the same, but they are introducing new cabinetry from partners in Overland vehicles.

A core focus for JHB Group will be creating new markets: “For example,” says Gantz, “Our fire safety simulators evolved from traditional fire safety trailers.

“Similarly, our prehab/rehab units and confined space training simulators are unique.

“The Badger follows this approach, combining public safety incident command with off-road response capabilities, a concept inspired by Overland practices.”

While Overland often implies rugged, off-road terrain, Gantz is seeing applications in urban environments too: “Police departments are starting to acquire Badger units for urban incidents.

“In situations like mass shootings or civil unrest, deploying a large command vehicle can be time-consuming.

“The Badger, on the other hand, can quickly reach the scene, providing communications, data connectivity, and privacy with its awning and walls.”

He adds: “Our aim is to ensure the Badger can be operational within minutes, offering a versatile base of operations for various emergency scenarios, whether in rugged or urban settings.”

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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