On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of cooperation between Skoda and TOPR, we went to Zakopane to see what the mountain rescue machinery looks like. We learned that in addition to off-road vehicles, SUVs, quads and snowmobiles, Tatra rescuers also use the latest technologies in their work.
Human life is priceless, so there should be no shortage of resources, people and equipment to save it. However, reality is often different from theoretical assumptions. The activities of the Tatra Volunteer Emergency Service are financed by the Ministry of the Interior and Administration from earmarked subsidies from the state budget, but may also be supported by local government subsidies. TOPR receives 15 percent. profit from admission tickets to the Tatra National Park. There is also the Tatra Rescue Foundation TOPR, which has the status of a public benefit organization to which everyone can allocate 1.5%. tax.
Priceless help from companies and individuals
We do not know TOPR’s budget, but we know that if it were not for the help of companies and sponsors, the association’s finances would be difficult. The largest organizational costs are incurred in maintaining bases and full-time positions. The rescuers themselves admit that their remuneration is low and inadequate to the effort and risk they incur every day of work. Each of our interlocutors admitted that they had to earn extra money in their free time from working at TOPR.
The off-road vehicles include Land Rover Defender and Ineos Grenadier
We asked Jan Gąsienica-Raj, head of TOPR transport, about the vehicles used by rescuers in their work. He admitted that when it comes to cars, they are quite well equipped. They have eight Land Rover Defender off-road vehicles (one of the vehicles is an ambulance). However, these are quite old cars (produced between 2000 and 2015) and somewhat worn, although maintained in full technical condition.
Recently, Ineos Grenadier, a Swiss off-road vehicle perfectly prepared for driving in difficult terrain, was put into service with TOPR. The car has a powerful BMW engine under the hood and is equipped with a very good 4×4 drive system (including a reducer, differential locks on each axle). Perhaps the TOPR machinery park will soon be expanded with a second copy of this model.
There are also Skoda electric cars
In addition to off-road vehicles, rescuers use four Skoda models for everyday transport: two combustion Kodiaqs and two electric Enyaqs (all with 4×4 drive). Their users praised both models, but emphasized that they were pleasantly surprised by the use of electric cars. They claim that they charge them at the Zakopane base once a week and, depending on the season, they easily cover a distance of over 300 km in the mountains. They add that when going down long hills, cars using the most powerful recuperation mode recharge their batteries themselves. They appreciate that Skoda Enyaqs have no problems with starting in sub-zero temperatures, and that their interiors heat up quickly in winter.
Drones with thermal cameras
In addition to off-road vehicles and SUVs, TOPR’s fleet includes: buses, quads (4- and 6-wheelers), ATVs (Traxters) and several snowmobiles. In rescue operations, TOPR officers also use drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras. As Stanisław Krzeptowski-Sobota, the drone operator, told us, they have several drones in stock of various sizes, power and range. These small air statics not only help locate lost people, but can also effectively shorten the time of a rescue operation. If a tourist gets lost and is physically fit, rescuers observing him from the air can show him the way back to the trail over the phone.
An old helicopter in stock
Mountain rescuers from Zakopane also have a Sokół helicopter. As Tomasz Gąsienica-Mikołajczyk, responsible for helicopter training, told us, Sokół is perfect for operations in difficult weather conditions. It has a large reserve of power and is praised for its stability and technical parameters. This is old, very worn out equipment that needs to be renovated every few years (the ship has many new components, including two engines), and each subsequent major repair is more and more expensive. Currently, the association from Zakopane is faced with a dilemma whether to renovate it again or buy a new foreign-made helicopter. Repairing the Sokół may cost up to PLN 30 million and will last for the next 5 years; this amount is 1/4 of the value of a new foreign-made helicopter.
Sokół performs well in difficult mountain conditions
Andrzej Marasek, TOPR on-board rescuer, added that Sokół is used not only in rescue operations in the Polish Tatra Mountains, but also in Slovakia. He noted that foreign rescuers have weaker equipment that does not work well in difficult weather conditions, and that pilots and mountain rescuers from Slovakia are not as well trained. That is why they use TOPR’s help for difficult air rescue operations.
12 full-time rescuers per 50,000 people tourists
Regardless of the season, the Tatra Mountains are heavily crowded with tourists. During the peak holiday season, approximately 50,000 people travel on mountain trails daily. tourists. Only on the August long weekend, as many as 15,000. people visited the Morskie Oko area every day. There are approximately 1,000 accidents in the Tatra Mountains annually, in which 15 to 20 people die.
Currently, the Tatra Volunteer Emergency Service employs 44 professional rescuers, who are supported on duty by volunteer rescuers who work free of charge. Interestingly, the number of full-time rescuers does not include TOPR pilots (currently there are six of them), who, although they perform tasks for the association, are employed by an external company. Professional TOPR officers work 12 hours a day for 7 days (working hours vary depending on the season), and they have another 7 days off. There are 12 full-time rescuers on daily duty at TOPR. When asked how often they go to action, they answer that there is no rule. The fact that it is the peak season or there are bad weather conditions on a given day does not always mean that they have more work.