They get to parts other vehicles cannot reach and now have innovative FloodSax alternative sandbags on board.
A group of volunteers who use their hardy 4x4 vehicles to deal with any emergencies in Norfolk and Suffolk can now quickly take the award-winning sandless sandbags anywhere in the two counties.
Norfolk and Suffolk 4x4 Response has 60 volunteers who will react quickly to any emergency call-outs to people stuck and needing help in remote locations inaccessible to other vehicles.
Their services are very much in demand with just over 400 callouts so far this year and members driving around 20,000 miles on urgent mercy missions.
It means if flooding is imminent they can get the FloodSax to the scene quickly to protect homes and businesses. FloodSax are vacuum-packed in bags of five and resemble large pillowcases before they are immersed in water. When this happens, a special gelling polymer inside the FloodSax absorbs the water and retains it so it expands to become an instant sandless sandbag.
The team has a phenomenal reputation with the average response time now just 37 minutes and the quickest response a mere 11 minutes.
Events co-ordinator Rob Hawley said: “Flooding has been a real issue this year and will continue to be in the future which is why it’s so important we are prepared for it. We had a call from a couple of nurses recently after their car conked out in a huge puddle.
“It would have taken hours to get them recovered and the vehicle pulled clear of the water but we were there within an hour. When it rains in Norfolk and Suffolk, many back roads become impassable.”
Rob also revealed that floodwater can rise incredibly quickly in the counties after torrential rain, never more so than when Storm Babet struck in October 2023.
He revealed that a ford in the Suffolk village of Debenham 10 miles north of Ipswich is usually less than 10 inches deep but rose rapidly to more than 7ft.
“I’d never seen it more than 1ft deep before,” said Rob. “It flooded several nearby properties.”
He added: “The FloodSax are space-saving to store and so lightweight to transport we can just chuck a box or two each containing 20 in the back and away we go.
“I was with a similar response organisation in the past which tried to take old-style sandbags out to people during emergencies but it took so much manpower to lift them and transport them anywhere and we need trailers hitched to our vehicles. Then the trailers are so heavy they were likely to sink in any mud too.
“At the moment we have 200 FloodSax at our central emergency store in Bungay 15 miles from Norwich and another 40 or so spread throughout the counties but if each of our volunteers had a box of 20 in the back it means we could respond to any calls for flooding help incredibly quickly.
“The FloodSax are also so easy to energise in water. We did an exercise day to test them out and even my three-year-old granddaughter could do it.”
Norfolk and Suffolk 4x4 Response is part of a national network of just over 30 groups covering the UK and has 3,000 members.
Rob said: “Our remit is to preserve and protect human life and property by providing equipment, vehicles and other resources to offer support in adverse conditions.
“Some days we can be transporting critical NHS staff or medical supplies in the snow or maybe helping transport firefighters to coastal flooding areas. Other days you might find us in the thick of remote forests keeping an eye on charity fundraisers to make sure they’re safe or patrolling an event with a paramedic in the passenger seat, ready to respond to any emergency. More commonly you’ll see us providing assistance to Lowland Search and Rescue by transporting search teams or dog teams.
“And when things go wrong you may also find us in the middle of a muddy field helping to recover vehicles after a heavy downpour during a summer fete.”