The MMU on the Move

It’s no secret that Iridia’s Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) project has been a significant focus for Iridia for the past nine months. It was a substantial undertaking and getting the Unit into camp and ensuring it was running smoothly required significant effort by a number of Iridia team members. We were happy that the doctors were comfortable, the Unit was humming along smoothly, and that all the rotations for 2013 were filled. Just when we thought we could relax, we received word that the MMU was going to have to be moved to a new location within the camp. What follows are the accounts from Tom Puddicombe (Director of Business Operations), and Iridia Founder, Dr. Allan Holmes, as they undertook the adventure of getting this complex Unit from point A to point B!


We like to describe the MMU as an RV on steroids with complex hook-ups for water and sewer, hydraulics for moving the sides out and a whole series of scary looking jacks to support the weight of the sides.

When we received word in late August that the Unit would need to be moved in late September, we immediately started the process of planning out the different components that would be involved with the move as we knew that this was going to be a complex and challenging project.  This included securing one of the drivers who had originally brought the MMU into camp.  The plans were coming together well and all was looking good.

However, on September 11, a phone message was received to call the camp immediately. Upon returning the call, we learned that the MMU was to be moved in 3 days’ time, not at the end of the month for which we had planned! We took a moment to catch our breath and then quickly revised the plans we had so carefully laid out. The driver was called off, Allan and I were hastily recruited to assist with the actual move, flights were immediately booked for the next day and off we went. We flew to Fort Nelson Thursday morning (September 12) in preparation for our helicopter ride to camp the following morning.

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We were fortunate to have beautiful sunny weather on the Friday we arrived and immediately began the process of boxing, labelling and waiting for the moving truck. Dr. Denis Thibodeau, one of our MMU physicians, was in camp to help with the move. The goal was to have as much equipment as possible moved out of the Unit by the end of the day. By 6:30 that evening, the Unit was almost empty except for the beds.

Saturday was the official move day and we planned for a 1pm move. At this point, we still had to move the beds out, take down the interior walls, and bump in the side so it would look like a regular truck trailer. The move was only 100 metres but it felt like 100 miles! We got an early start and began the process of collapsing the Unit. In order to do this correctly, we needed to close one side half way, move to other side and close it completely and then return to the original side to push it closed. This being our first time closing the walls, we were more than a little cautious – the last thing we wanted was an overturned truck. Thankfully we were able to get the walls closed without incident. It seemed as though we’d have the Unit moved in no time. Then the fun started.

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Moving the Unit was a mammoth task and we encountered a number of pretty significant, unforeseeable challenges in the process, however, with resourcefulness, some good problem solving skills and the help of a number of trucking experts within the camp, we managed to troubleshoot the problems and move the Unit approximately 100 metres to its new position. After our success in taking down the Unit, we felt confident we could set it up without issues and we were right. The walls were opened, the jacks set and the Unit was levelled without any difficulty. Thanks to all – including special thanks to the Facility Safety Hand in camp – who assisted us with the various aspects and challenges of the actual move.

By this time it was getting dark and the beds were still sitting on the matting at the old location – the 2 hour delay in moving the Unit had not helped us. Saturday is steak and prawns night in camp and we knew the staff wouldn’t want to miss this weekly culinary treat, so we broke and joined the group for dinner.

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After a dinner equalling the finer steak houses in Omaha, Nebraska, we headed back out to the Unit. Thankfully it was still light until 9pm so we took advantage of a few more hours of daylight.  We hadn’t anticipated becoming a special dinner for the bugs who happily feasted on us during the dusk period.  As with many other aspects of the troubleshooting during the move, we “bootstrapped” our approach to the moving of the very heavy hospital beds.  I am not sure this is in the Stryker manual but why not transport the beds by strapping them to a plywood covered pallet and then moving them with a ‘bobcat’ across the yard?  While not an elegant process – dirty roads are very bumpy – it was efficient. The beds were moved one at a time and we managed to get them into the unit by 9pm as darkness was setting in. As we headed off to bed, we knew the heavy lifting was complete and that we could use Sunday to clean and setup the unit to its original form.  We are proud to say we were back in operation with only a six-hour window where the MMU was not accessible if an emergency came up.

Sunday’s pace was much more leisurely. We started with a lovely eggs benedict breakfast and then Tom was able to dispel the myth with his wife about not being able to clean, by cleaning the entire interior of the unit, including scrubbing the walls and floors. Then we brought in the equipment. By the time we sat down for turkey dinner – Thanksgiving came early – we had completed the job.

The weekend was a busy but satisfying one. With a good team working hard, and solving problems on the fly, the move was completed in a short three days.

Now that we are home, we hope that we won’t have to do another move like that for at least a few more years.

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