Frontline workers of a different sort: We take a closer look at Skoda’s various emergency cars and the people that run them
The spotlight has been thrown on the frontline emergency and medical staffers all around the world as we engage the Covid-19 pandemic. In these times, it makes for an interesting observation that the vehicles the response teams rely on are also an important part of the chain.
While we’ve surely heard of the Lamborghini police interceptor, and seen Munich’s BMW police fleet, emergency fleets throughout much of Central and Western Europe are from Skoda.
The brand has been building special vehicles for since 1906 when it first built motorised ambulances for use in Prague. And so we dug through the Skoda archives to discover the details.
Before Skoda was Skoda, it was Laurin & Klement. Founded in 1895 by Václav Laurin and Václav Klement, the company built motorised vehicles and bicycles.
The first Laurin & Klement automobiles were produced in 1905, and after official approval of the first Laurin & Klement car, the Voiturette A, a more powerful model was developed to be used as a military ambulance for transporting four stretchers with the wounded.
It’s best described as an open chassis with lightweight, removal beds stacked on two levels. The priority back then was to get the wounded off the field of battle to the surgeon’s field hospital quickly, and considering that automobile technology was still in the early stages, the motorised field ambulance was quite an innovation- keep in mind that World War I still had horses playing a major role.
Laurin & Klement were acquired by Skoda in 1925, and by now ambulances, along with other emergency vehicles, were usually built by independent coachbuilders in Europe on a regular vehicle chassis.
Oldřich Uhlík in Prague was making wooden ambulance superstructures for the City of Prague’s health department on the chassis of the Skoda 125 utility vehicle from 1929, and other Skoda chassis were also being used around the Kingdom of Bohemia and the city of Prague.
In Prague–Podolí, a six-cylinder Skoda 6R was modified to be a fully equipped ambulance more than five metres long. In Kadaň, a ŠKODA 645 was built with the innovative idea of carrying a pair of stretchers suspended on coil springs.
By the mid-1930s, ambulances were mostly built on the basis of middle-level to higher-class vehicles, carrying nameplates now familiar to us: Rapid, Favorit and Superb, with wheelbases extending to more than three metres.
Beginning in 1961, the Skoda 1202 , with its all-metal body and upward-opening rear door came on line. It was followed up by the Skoda 1203 in 1973. Over the following three decades, the 1203 became the most common ambulance in Czechoslovakia.
Currently, the Skoda Yeti and Kodiaq are the most-used emergency vehicles in the Czech Republic. Specially modified at the factory-level, and integrated with cutting-edge emergency response tech, these cars are also sold to other European countries outside of the Czech Republic.
Many countries continue to use vehicles that have been retrofitted and modified into police and emergency vehicles after being imported as standard passenger vehicles.
The drawback with this method is that the cars are often crammed with equipment that do no ergonomically fit the cabin space, and even the ride quality suffers if the suspension has not been uprated to account for the additional weight of the onboard gear.
A police dog unit version of the Kodiaq was also launched in earlier this year with special features tailored to four-legged front-liners too.
In Lausanne, Switzerland, Adjutant Jean-Philippe Jaquier is the chief of the police vehicle department, and he’s in charge of a lot of Skodas.
Jaquier has certified over 70 Skodas to the Lausanne police fleet in recent years, which is a laurel for any car brand – he reveals that patrol cars remain in service for up to six years and put in more than 200,000 km by the time they are retired from the fleet. Service intervals are strictly adhered to, and he says that to date, the Skodas have never failed while in service.
He says, “The cars are very sturdy. We don’t have to alter the chassis at all, even though we load the vehicles up quite heavily with our equipment. For example, the rear of the new Kodiaq features not only protective equipment, such as a shield and bulletproof vest, but also crow’s feet, warning lamps, warning triangles and more.”
Jaquier has an interesting story on how he has managed to combine his love for working on cars with his career.
He explains, “Actually, I didn’t plan to become a policeman at all. I applied for a job as a police car mechanic. But in the interview, the sergeant suggested that I might want to consider becoming a police officer. And one thing led to another. All in all, I was a motorway police officer for 19 years before I became manager of the vehicle fleet, a position I continue to hold with pride.”
Over in the Pilsen Region, at the western part of the Czech Republic, Dr Robin Šín is a paramedic and also chief medical officer of the Emergency Medical Service of the area. The emergency fleet vehicle is a Skoda Kodiaq.
Dr Šín explains that when arriving at the scene of an accident or emergency, paramedics think of their own personal safety before anything else. And here’s why: “Who is going to rescue the rescuers if something happens to them?”
He states that safety first is his firm rule in professional work as well as personal life: “When I go anywhere, even to the nearest store to buy bread, I buckle up. I require the same for all other members of the crew. What’s more, I have a young son, and sometimes when I look around at other cars on the road and I see that there are children sitting between the seats or sitting without child safety seats or a booster seat – that for me is absolutely incomprehensible. It’s just plain gambling with somebody’s life.”
When Dr. Šín recalls his early days as a paramedic, the word adrenaline comes to mind. “Just because you’re driving with the flashing lights and the siren on and the cars are clearing the way ahead of you, that’s a pretty awesome experience. But you’ll get used to that quickly, and you’ll never again have an adrenaline rush as high as on that first call,” he says.
These days, heightened adrenaline levels are associated rather with negative phenomena, and Dr. Šín notes that drivers often panic when they see an ambulance come up behind them on the road. This situation could be improved, he suggests, by giving this more attention in the driving schools when they are training new drivers.