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Not All UTV’s Are Created Equal
In recent years, ATV’s big brother, known as the UTV, has seen a rapid increase in use by emergency service organizations across the country. Fire, Police and EMS now recognize a wide variety of uses and applications for these UTV vehicles including wild land firefighting, emergency medical evacuation from remote areas, police search and rescue operations, crowd control, SARS urban interface just to name a few.
As the President and owner of one of the leading manufacturers of medical and fire skid units built specifically for these specialized vehicles, I receive calls every day from top executives and administrators from the whole country asking about the suitability of one type of make model UTV over another. Those who have never bought a UTV are in luck. It is the organization that has purchased a UTV with the mistaken idea that the particular make/model they are purchasing will be adequate for the needs of the emergency services they lead that sometimes has a problem.
There are many UTV makes and models to choose from on the market today. Some are better suited to work in the emergency services than others. Some UTVs have no business being used by these organizations for emergency services work. The Polaris Ranger 6×6 and 4×4, Kubota RTV 900, Kawasaki Mule 3010, John Deere Gator 6×6 and 4×4, Cub Cadet big country, the Buffalo 6×6 and the Argo amphibious are all units that are very popular and seem to be the most suitable. for emergency service work. There are many other makes and models that deserve careful consideration to ensure they are useful for the mission they hope to accomplish.
Emergency service organizations must put as much time, effort, thought and due diligence into purchasing their UTV as they do for their next ambulance or fire truck. First, we need to outline the mission objectives, typography/geography types of the main response area (hills, steep vs swamp, wet environment) and finally the main mission of the UTV in the organization, medical transportation, wild land firefighting or a combination. in both. Once these questions are answered, the organization can look into the specifics of the different types of UTV models that can be used to best achieve mission goals. Second, safety should always be high on the list. Most UTV’s provide seat belts but make sure the model of UTV you want has them (and then write the proper SOG’s or SOP’s to make sure your organization follows the seat belts rule at all times) as well as has a ROPS (roll over protection structure) which is a roll cage that protects the occupants of the sitting areas of the UTV. Third, is the total weight carrying capacity of the whole unit but more specifically the carrying capacity of the cargo bed is the most important. This is where many departments are tripped up. They go out and buy a unit that doesn’t meet the requirements that the industry brings with these skid units but it’s too late.
When considering the purchase of a UTV, I’m sure that true 4×4 or 6×6 drive train capability is a must for your organization. Again, check the make/model specifications carefully. Some claim to be 6×6 (which they are, almost) but if you look closely you will see that only 4 of the 6 wheels on the car are actually drive wheels. The other two wheels are just freewheeling. Test drive the units while looking at the turning radius of the 6×6 versus the 4×4, or your mission’s payload requirements dictate the 6×6 over the 4×4.
In the cargo bed requirements for a medical type skid unit, I have a rule that the UTV you buy must be rated to carry at least 650 lbs. in the cargo bed of the unit. We arrive at this number by adding the weight of the base skid unit (usually 150 lbs. or less) to the average weight of an attendant, patient, trauma bag, O2 bag and bottle and other necessary things. There are UTVs out there that are rated to only carry 400 lbs. in the cargo bed, which is less than 650 lbs. mentioned above. If it’s a wildland firefighting skid with water and gear you’re interested in, that number can jump to 900 lbs. and above for a required rated cargo capacity. When doing your due diligence and getting details, the web sites of all the manufacturers mentioned above are a good place to start. For example, the Polaris 6×6 Ranger has a total rated vehicle payload capacity of 1750 lbs. with a rated cargo bed capacity of 1250 lbs. The Kubota RTV 900 has similar total payload capacity ratings of 1653 lbs. and 1102-lbs. cargo bed capacity. The Polaris Ranger 4×4 has a vehicle payload capacity of 1500 lbs. and a cargo bed rated capacity of 1000 lbs. As you can see, the relationship between make and model specifications and rated capacities will soon help you narrow down your search for the right UTV for the mission you hope to accomplish. Most UTV skid manufactures have begun to standardize the size of the skid units. A UTV’s cargo bed must be at least 49″ wide and 54″ tall. UTV units with smaller sized beds can limit you in how many skid units you have to choose from and can increase the price if a customized skid unit needs to be built to fit the your particular UTV.
Remember, as a chief executive of an emergency services organization, you don’t want to be put in the awkward position of having to answer tough questions to a high-priced litigation attorney who sees your organization. because you put the wrong UTV in the wrong area of the mission that results. in an accident. We should give these vehicles the same respect and due diligence when deciding which unit to buy as we do when we buy larger vehicles. These vehicles are as dangerous to our personnel and our patients as they are when we have accidents with larger units. It is imperative that we do everything to avoid accidents by buying the right UTV for the mission.
In closing, the point of this article is to get you to think about your UTV make/model options carefully before you make the final purchase. I also want to say that I am not a fan of the use of ATVs used by emergency services. I purchased one for my small rural department but soon felt that the unit did not provide enough safety protection for my firefighters/EMTs. First you ride an ATV like a motorcycle instead of inside a UTV like a car. Second, there are no seat belts on ATV’s where there are almost always seat belts on UTV’s, and finally the ATV can be unstable in many conditions. ATVs must serve limited mission roles in emergency service organizations. Remember that cheaper in terms of cost is not always better when it comes to our national motto for firefighters “Everyone goes home”.
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