In recent years, the big brother of ATV's, known as the UTV,
have seen a rapid rise in use by emergency services organizations across the
country. Fire, Police and EMS are now recognizing a wide variety of uses and applications
for these UTV vehicles including wildland firefighting, emergency medical
evacuation from remote locations, police search and rescue operations, crowd
control, SARS urban interface just to name a few.
As President and owner of one of the leading manufacturers
of medical and fire skid units built specifically for these specialized
vehicles, I get calls daily from chief officers and administrators from across
the country inquiring about the suitability of one type of make model UTV over
another. The ones that haven't purchased a UTV yet are in luck. It is the
organization that has already purchased a UTV with the mistaken notion that the
particular make/model they purchased will be adequate for the needs of the
emergency services they lead who are sometimes in trouble.
There are many UTV makes and models to choose from on the
market today. Some are much better suited for emergency services work than
others. Some UTV's have no business being utilized by these organizations at
all for emergency services work. The Polaris Ranger 6x6 and 4x4, Kubota RTV
900, Kawasaki Mule 3010, John Deere Gator 6x6 and 4x4, Cub Cadet Big Country,
the Buffalo 6x6 and the Argo amphibious are all units that are very popular and
seem to be the best suited for emergency services work. There are many other
makes and models that deserve tighter scrutiny to insure they will be useful
for the mission they will be expected to fulfill.
Emergency services organizations need to put just as much
time, effort, thought and due diligence into the purchase of their UTV as they
would for their next ambulance or fire truck. First, we need to outline mission
objectives, types of typography/geography in the main response area (hilly,
steep versus swampy, moist environments) and ultimately the primary mission of
the UTV in the organization, medical transport, wild land firefighting or a
combination of the two. Once these questions have been answered, then the
organization can look at the specifications of the different type UTV models
available that best meet the mission objectives. Second, safety must always be
high on the list. Most UTV's provide seat belts but make sure the UTV model you
are interested in comes equipped with them (and then write proper SOG's or
SOP's to insure your organization follows the seat belts always rule) as well
as having ROPS (roll over protection structure) which is essentially a roll
cage that protects the occupants of the seated areas in the UTV. Third, is the
overall weight carrying capacity of the entire unit but more specific the
carrying capacity of the cargo bed is of utmost importance. This is where many
departments get tripped up. They go out and purchase a unit that cannot meet
industry-carrying requirements of these skid units but find out too late.
When considering the purchase of a UTV, I am certain that
true 4x4 or 6x6 drive train capability is a must for your organization. Again,
check the make/model specifications carefully. Some claim to be 6x6 (which they
are, almost) but looking closer you will find that only 4 of the 6 wheels on
the vehicle are really true drive wheels. The other two wheels are just
freewheeling. Test drive the units while looking at turning radius on the 6x6
versus the 4x4, or is the payload requirements of your mission dictates the 6x6
over the 4x4.
On cargo bed requirements for a medical type skid unit, I
have a rule of thumb that the UTV you are buying should be rated to carry at
least 650 lbs. in the cargo bed of the unit. We get to this number by adding
the weight of the base skid unit (usually 150 lbs. or less) by the average
weight of an attendant, patient, trauma bag, O2 bag and bottle and other
necessary items. There are UTV's out there that are rated to only carry 400
lbs. in the cargo bed, which is way below the 650 lbs. mentioned above. If it
is a wild land firefighting skid with water and gear that you are interested
in, that number can jump to 900 lbs. and above for a required rated cargo
capacity. When doing your due diligence and getting specifications, the web sites
of all the manufactures mentioned above is a great starting place. For
instance, the Polaris 6x6 Ranger has an overall rated vehicle payload capacity
of 1750 lbs. with a rated cargo bed capacity of 1250 lbs.
The Kubota RTV 900
has similar ratings at an overall payload capacity of 1653 lbs. and 1102-lbs.
cargo bed capacity. The Polaris Ranger 4x4 has a vehicle payload capacity of
1500 lbs. and a cargo bed rated capacity of 1000 lbs. As you can see, the
relationship between the make and models specifications and rated capacities
soon helps you narrow your search for the right UTV for the mission you expect
it to undertake. Most UTV skid manufactures are starting to standardize the
size of the skid units. The cargo bed of the UTV should be at least 49"
wide and 54" long. UTV units with smaller sized beds will potentially
restrict you as to how many skid units you have to choose from and could drive
the price up substantially if a customized skid unit needs to be built to fit
your particular UTV.
Remember, as a chief officer of an emergency services
organization, you do not want to be put in the unenviable position of having to
answer tough questions by a high priced litigation attorney seeing your
organization because you placed the wrong UTV into the wrong mission area
resulting in an accident. We must give these vehicles the same respect and due
diligence when deciding which unit to purchase as we do when we buy the larger
vehicles. These vehicles can harm our personnel and our patients just like if
we have an accident with the larger units. It is imperative that we do
everything to prevent an accident by purchasing the right UTV for the mission.
In closing, the point of this article is to get you to
consider your options of makes/models of UTV's very closely before you make the
final purchase. I also want to say that I am not a fan of the use of ATV's in
use by emergency services. I bought one for my small rural department but soon
felt that the unit did not provide enough safety protection for my firefighters/EMT's.
First you ride up on an ATV like on a motorcycle instead of inside a UTV like a
car. Second, there are no seat belts on ATV's where there is almost always seat
belts on UTV's, and finally the ATV can be very unstable in many conditions.
ATV's should serve limited mission roles in emergency services organizations.
Remember that cheaper in terms of cost is not always best when it comes to our
national motto for firefighters "Everyone comes home".
Kimball W. Johnson is President of KIMTEK Corporation makers
of the MEDLITE Medical Transport skid unit (patent pending), The FIRELITE
Transport for wild land firefighting and makers of the EUV (emergency utility
vehicle) which is a turn key, ready for service unit that is available on a
variety of make and model chassis. Mr. Johnson is also a volunteer Fire Chief
and volunteer EMT.