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How to buy off-road rescue products

By Kimball Johnson

In recent years, the big brother of all terrain vehicles (ATVs), known as the utility terrain vehicle (UTV), has 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 wild land firefighting, emergency medical evacuation from remote locations, police search and rescue operations, crowd control, SARS urban interface to name a few. Here’s a few points to consider when purchasing a UTV for off road rescue:

Picking the right UTV chassis for the mission
Some UTV makes and models are better suited for emergency services work than others, while some have no business being utilized by these organizations at all. Emergency services organizations need to put just as much time, effort, thought and due diligence into the purchase of their UTV and skid unit as they would for their next fire truck or ambulance.

First, we need to outline mission objectives, types of topography and geography in the main response area (hilly, steep versus swampy, moist environments) and, ultimately, the primary mission of the UTV in the organization, such as medical transport or wildland firefighting. Also, look at the specifications of the different type UTV models available that best meet the mission objectives.

Second, safety must always be the highest priority. 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 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.

Any skid unit or trailer you intend on using in conjunction with the UTV must have proper safety restraints for patients and attendants.

Cargo bed requirements
On cargo bed requirements for a medical type skid unit, a rule of thumb is that the UTV you are buying should be rated to carry at least 650 pounds in the cargo bed. This number comes from adding 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 necessities.

There are UTVs out there that are rated to only carry 400 lbs, way below 650 pounds. If it is a wildland firefighting 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, check the web sites of the various UTV manufactures. For instance, the new 2010 Polaris 6x6 Ranger has an overall rated payload capacity of 2,000 pounds with a rated cargo bed capacity of 1250 pounds. The Kubota RTV 900 has similar ratings at a payload capacity of 1630 pounds and 1100 pounds of cargo bed capacity.

As you can see, the relationship between the make and models’ specifications and rated capacities can help you narrow your search for the right UTV for the mission.

Kimball Johnson is President and owner of KIMTEK Corporation makers of the Medline Medical Transport skid unit and the Firelite Transport for wildland firefighting and makers of the emergency utility vehicle (EUV) which is a turnkey, ready for service unit that is available on a variety of make and model chassis. Mr. Johnson is also a retired volunteer Fire Chief and volunteer EMT. Visit for more info.