|CargoBuckle provides quick and simple securing of UTVs and other items for transport. (Photos courtesy of IMMI.)|
In last month’s column, I discussed design/performance and training for utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) in emergency services. I addressed two safety concerns: the lack of design and performance criteria for UTVs for emergency response agencies and the lack of a sanctioned training program for the use of UTVs in emergencies. This month I’ll cover a third safety concern—transporting UTVs.
The most typical method of transport is with a trailer. Trailers can be problematic in a response mode. Drivers must be familiar with the handling characteristics, especially braking, when towing a trailer. Drivers must also be experienced in backing a trailer. Hands-on practice and training are essential.
One common problem the fire service encounters is ball hitch compatibility for towing trailers. If a department has more than one trailer or tow vehicle, it should standardize the hitch and ball size. The fire service should also be aware that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has minimum requirements for trailers in NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Chapter 26 of the standard is dedicated to trailers. Some of the safety requirements of the chapter include carrying capacity (GVWR), labeling, fluids and pressures unique to the trailer, braking, suspension and wheels, hitches, safety chains, wheel chocks, electrical and lighting, umbilical cords and cables, optical warning devices, and reflective tape. A fire department should include its trailer in its regular equipment and apparatus checklists for serviceability.
In addition to making sure the trailer is secured to the tow vehicle, a fire department must be sure to safely secure the UTV to the trailer. This may seem like a minor concern, but it can be a big problem in an emergency situation. Most departments deploy their UTVs infrequently, and the process may not be second nature. Adverse conditions, such as bad weather, inadequate lighting, and uneven terrain, exacerbate the problem.
Typically the industry has relied on the wide array of webbing, ratcheting systems, hooks, and tie-down devices to secure UTVs. The devices are relatively inexpensive and are commonly found at hardware, home improvement, and automotive parts stores. Recognizing the need for an improved product, IMMI used its expertise and capabilities to design and produce a product to improve efficiency and safety during UTV deployment. IMMI is the manufacturer of almost all the seat belts and air bags used in fire apparatus.
At FDIC 2011, it introduced the CargoBuckle® and BoatBuckle® tie-down products for the emergency services market. The straps are especially beneficial in that they automatically “self-store” when not in use. This eliminates all the excess webbing that is common with most ratchet tie-downs available on the consumer market. In addition to excess webbing, most consumer tie-downs are difficult to release when pulled tight. The new tie-downs can be permanently mounted on the trailer. To secure the UTV, boat, or other item for transport, the process is simple: hook, ratchet, and go. The system is very simple, is inherently easy to use, and can be deployed in a fraction of the time.
The fire and emergency services will continue to find ways to use UTVs for service delivery. In almost every application, the UTV undergoes an aftermarket modification. There are no standards to which these modifications are measured. The safety component to these units is at the discretion of the agency doing the modification. Moreover, stock units (i.e., the chassis—to use an apparatus term) can now generate up to 50 hp and easily reach up to 50 mph. The bottom line is that emergency responders cannot ignore UTV safety.
ROBERT TUTTEROW is safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).