By Alan M. Petrillo
Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Magazine - Sept. 14, 2009
Fire departments across the country are turning to utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) outfitted for firefighting and rescue to take some of the heat off already-strained apparatus and operating budgets.
In response to the burgeoning demand for such vehicles, manufacturers are finding ways to build units that can serve multiple functions, yet not compromise their basic purpose. It's not unusual to find UTVs fitted for firefighting that also can serve as rough terrain rescue vehicles. Some can accommodate a Stokes basket on the fire rig, and others have a removable skid unit that can be replaced with an EMS type skid unit.
KIMTEK Corp. in Westmore, Vt., had its beginnings in research and development in the fire sprinkler industry 25 years ago, but by 2004 began designing firefighting and rescue units to be incorporated onto UTVs.
"We started by looking at all the makes and models of UTVs and their centers of gravity so we could best determine the placement of water weights and develop the ability to carry extra storage," recalled Kimball Johnson, the company president.
He developed the MEDLITE® transport unit in 2005, followed by the firefighting-oriented FIRELITE® unit, which comes in three versions with Davey pumps, Hannay reels, 55 or 70-gallon polyethylene tanks and built-in hose storage compartments. An around-the-pump foam system with a 5-gallon foam cell is an option. All three FIRELITE® versions also offer the capability of transporting a patient.
"All our units are identical in platform width and length, and all fit the different series of UTVs from different manufacturers," Johnson said. "Our units install right on the cargo box, and they're installable in the field by the end-user customer in a half hour using simple tools."
Johnson noted that KIMTEK has more than 600 FIRELITE® and MEDLITE®; units in service in 49 states and 3 Canadian provinces, as well as with all four major branches of the U.S. military. Approximately 60 percent of its units are operated by volunteer fire departments, he said, with the balance in municipal and suburban paid departments.
The company's skid units, which cost between $3,900 and $5,900, have been installed on UTVs made by Polaris, Kubota, Kawasaki, John Deere, Cub Cadet, Buffalo and Argo.
"We feel this is a major niche market that's in its embryonic stage right now," Johnson said. "The demographics we feel are driving the marketplace are that service providers are not getting any younger, as well as the units can get to a scene much quicker and with a lot fewer encumbrances than conventional units."
George Korycan, the owner of TerraTor Corporation in Hollandale, Wis., said he's been in the business six years, providing UTV-based firefighting skid units mostly to rural volunteer fire departments that have limited revenue sources.
"We want to keep our product as affordable as possible and be the Chevy of the industry," Korycan said. "Firefighters need to pump water to put out fires, and the fire doesn't know how much the rig costs."
TerraTor makes units such as the Pumpster, Skidster and Skidster Plus, among others. Tanks range from 80 to 105 gallons in capacity, the units carry Davey two-stage pumps and pump engines are either Briggs 6 hp or Honda 5.5 hp. Both the Pumpster and Skidster Plus are designed to carry a Stokes basket or other type of long board in the center of the unit.
"About 65 percent of our units go on Polaris UTVs, with 45 percent of them going on their 6-by-6 model," Korycan said. "Twenty percent of our units go on Kubota UTVs, followed by the Kawasaki Mule, John Deere and others."
Some of the units are skid (drop-in), while others are mounted to the UTV frame after the bed has been removed. Prices range between $4,500 and $7,000, depending on the unit chosen and its capabilities.
Korycan said that the number one reason fire departments buy his units "is for our agility to fight brush fires and fires in hard to reach terrain. After that, it's because our machinery can be operated by a novice after five minutes of instruction. When the pump is running you only have to open or close the valve." Korycan said he would like to see UTVs capable of being licensed and driven on public highways.
"These units work well for car fires," he said, "and we're told that often it's the first vehicle on the scene because it's so agile and quick."
E.J. Metals of Hortonville, Wis., which has been making firefighting vehicles out of UTVs for seven years, has developed a new model, the Assault Force 70 Fire-Rescue Rough Terrain Vehicle.
The unit has a 70-gallon water tank, a 5-gallon Class A foam cell, a high pressure fire pump and a newly-designed triple-discharge nozzle that allows firefighters to attack brush and wildland fires with different water and foam streams. The nozzle has spray patterns from straight stream to light mix to heavy mix for changing fire conditions. The high-pressure system is hydraulically driven and provides a 6-gpm discharge at 1500 psi, delivering approximately 12 minutes of discharge time.
The Assault Force 70, built on a Kubota TRV900, is designed for off-road firefighting in the urban interface, as well as industrial firefighting applications, according to Shawn Tennie, sales and purchasing coordinator.
"With the high pressure system," he said, "it packs the punch you would expect to see from a bigger fast attack vehicle."
E.J. Metals makes firefighting skid units that can be installed on a variety of UTVs, Tennie noted. It also makes a removable EMT package unit for UTVs. Prices for units range from $8,000 to $13,000.
"A lot of departments buy both the fire and EMT skid units so they can get the most out of their vehicle," he said. "It can be used in the firefighting mode or with the EMT unit on it for patrol at festivals, parades and concerts."
Kevin Quinn, E.J. Metals president, called the new Assault Force 70 an "effective solution for ranchers and homeowners in the urban interface or exurban areas who are interested in on-site fire suppression capabilities for brush fires that can threaten outbuildings, barns, sheds and homes."
The unit's hydraulic hose reel, he noted, can be used to power chain saws, submersible pumps, cutters and other equipment. By using an optional submersible pump, the Assault Force 70 can re-supply itself by drafting from ponds, streams or water tanks.
RKO Enterprises in Madison, Ind., has been making skid units for utility vehicles for about 20 years, according to president Keith Olson.
"Some departments just want a fire unit, while others want a rescue unit," he said. "And there are departments who want a combination of the two. We make those three versions in 20 different configurations that go into the bed of a UTV."
The RKO units range in price from $3,000 to $12,000, and their popularity lies in their robustness, Olson said.
"We make them with all stainless steel piping, heavy duty aluminum parts and fully-baffled copolymer fire service tanks," he said. "All parts are manufactured to [National Fire Protection Association] specifications because we want the unit to last and to be trouble free."
Olson said the fire unit and combination units sell equally well, followed by the rescue version.
RKO's customers include paid municipal departments, including Fire Department New York, volunteer departments and federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy.
Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Magazine is a monthly reference magazine for those who purchase fire and emergency apparatus, components, protective gear, tools and equipment.