Choosing an UTV for your department

CarolinaFireJournal - Kimball Johnson
Kimball Johnson
04/29/2011 -

In recent years, the big brother of all terrain vehicles (ATV) known as the utility vehicle (UTV), have seen a rapid rise in use by emergency services organizations across the country. Fire, police and EMS are now seeing a wide variety of uses and applications for these UTV vehicles, including wildland fire fighting, emergency medical evacuation from remote locations, police search and rescue operations, crowd control, and SARS urban interface, to name a few.


I receive calls daily from chief officers and administrators from across the country inquiring about the suitability of one type or make model UTV over another. The ones that haven’t purchased a UTV yet, are sometimes in luck. It is the ones that have 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.

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, while some have no business being utilized by these organizations at all. The Polaris Ranger 6x6 and 4x4, Kubota RTV 900, Kawasaki Mule 4010, 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, 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, wildland fire fighting 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 UTVs provide seat belts, but make sure the UTV model you are interested in comes equipped with them. Write proper SOGs or SOPs to insure your organization follows all the rules, as well as having ROPS — restraint operative protective system — 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 make a mistake. They purchase a unit that cannot meet industry carrying requirements of these skid units, but find out too late.

On cargo bed requirements for a medical type skid unit, the rule of thumb is that the UTV you are buying should be rated to carry at least 650 pounds in the cargo bed of the unit. This number is the sum of the weight of the base skid unit — usually 150 pounds or less — by the average weight of an attendant, patient, trauma bag, O2 bag and bottle and other necessary items. There are UTVs available that only have cargo bed carrying capacity of 400 pounds. If  it is a wildland firef ighting skid with water and gear that you are interested in, that number can jump to 900 pounds and above for a required rated cargo capacity.

When doing your due diligence and getting specifications, the Web sites of all the manufacturers mentioned above is a great starting place. For instance, the Polaris 6x6 Ranger has an overall rated GVRW of 2000 pounds with a rated cargo bed capacity of 1250 pounds. The Kubota RTV 900 has similar ratings at a GVRW of 1630 pounds and 1100 pounds cargo bed capacity. The Polaris Ranger 4x4 has a GVRW of 1400 pounds and a cargo bed rated cavity of 1000 pounds. 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 manufacturers are starting to standardize the size of the skid units. The cargo bed of the UTV should be at least 49 inches wide and 54 inches 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 must give these vehicles the same respect and due diligence when deciding which unit to purchase as you do when buying larger vehicles. These vehicles can harm our personnel and our patients the same if we have an accident with the larger units. It is imperative that everything is done to prevent an accident by purchasing the right UTV for the mission.

Kimball Johnson is President and owner of KIMTEK Corporation, makers of the MEDLITE Medical Transport skid unit, The FIRELITE Transport for wild land fi refi ghting and makers of the EUV (emergency utility vehicle). Johnson is also a retired volunteer fi re chief and volunteer EMT. You can reach him at
Comments & Ratings

  7/19/2012 11:30:22 AM

New Comment 
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