Land Rover-based fire appliances
Posted by Chris Graham on 27th April 2021
Ron Henderson tells the story of some very interesting but comparatively rare Land Rover-based fire appliances.
From the introduction of the original Land Rover Series 1 light off-road vehicle at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, this all-rounder – and its successors – gained wide acceptance from many operators. Designed particularly for farm and light industrial use, the vehicle was quickly adapted for a whole multitude of purposes, including fire-fighting duties.
The Land Rover featured a steel, box-section chassis and an aluminium body. The original design offered a single model which, from 1948 until 1951, used an 80-inch wheelbase and a 1.6-litre petrol engine producing around 50hp. A four-speed gearbox from the Rover P3 saloon was used, with the addition of a new, two-speed transfer box.
Rover produced a fire pump version of the appliance, especially for industrial fire services, where confined spaces in industrial complexes prevented full-sized fire engines gaining access. The vehicle featured a rear-mounted pump driven from the road engine, a 40-gallon water tank and enough hose and equipment to keep a fire in check until the arrival of reinforcements.
Successive models proved equally popular for fire service conversions, with several fire engineering firms gaining authorisation to produce their own versions. By the end of the 1960s, Land Rover fire engines were in operation with many county fire authorities, as well as industrial firms and airfields.
In 1961, a major departure from the traditional design of the normal control Land Rover occurred, with the introduction of a forward-control vehicle based on the Series II 109-inch wheelbase chassis. The cab, being positioned over the engine, resulted in a greatly increased load space. The result was a vehicle capable of carrying 30cwt on roads and countryside tracks and, and up to 25cwt across the roughest terrain – twice the capacity of a conventional Land Rover.
The conversion incorporated a new, welded box-section forward frame extension carrying the steering gear and pedal controls, with 75% of existing Land Rover parts being retained in the design. Larger tyres – 9x16in – permitted a 10in ground clearance and better weight distribution. The engine was Rover’s existing four-cylinder overhead valve petrol type. Initially, three load carrying bodies were offered; flat platform, fixed-side body or dropside body.
It was not long before Britain’s fire engineering firms saw the advantage of the larger capacity Land Rover and, in 1961, Carmichael & Sons of Worcester, exhibited the fire engine conversion at the Margate conference and exhibition of the Chief Fire Officers Association. ‘Redwing’ was the designation of Carmichael’s Land Rover fire engine, and this new one was designated the ‘Redwing FT6’.
Mini fire engine
Fitted with aluminium body sides and a glass fibre roof, the prototype vehicle was a mini version of a conventional fire engine, with built-in pump, of which three types were offered – a German KSB, and two types of Coventry-Climax pump, with capacities ranging from 350 to 500 gallons-per-minute. The units were shaft-driven from the Land Rover’s standard, centre power take off gear.
Accommodation was provided for a four-man crew plus equipment, including a 140 gallons water tank and a 120-foot hose reel. On the roof, ladders up to 35 feet in length, could be carried. A futuristic machine at the time, the prototype was evaluated by Commercial Motor magazine and, after a period of demonstration duties, was acquired by Brighton & Hove Airport for use at its Shoreham site. Interestingly, this appliance appeared on an internet auction site in January, 2021.
As well as the standard fire engine, specialised versions, equipped with dry powder and foam extinguishing equipment for airport fire services, were offered. Cheshire Fire Brigade promptly placed an order for four units, followed by a further four, but few other local authority fire services took up the option of these vehicles, instead continuing to prefer the traditional, normal-control version.
A few were sold overseas, to fire brigades in Malaya, New Zealand and Trinidad. The biggest single order came from the Ministry of Defence, for 16 examples for use by the Army Fire Service. Carmichael later produced a Redwing FT7 model that was built on the same chassis, but featured a totally different design. It was offered with rear-facing seats for the crew and a slightly larger water tank, with an option for the pump to be mounted either amidships or at the rear.
Several other established fire-engineering firms, including Alfred Miles and Pyrene, undertook a few conversions, as well as a few firms not usually connected with fire engine modifications, which produced a few vehicles. These included Isle of Man company Crosby, Cain & Kemmish, which supplied three for the island’s fire service.
Particularly unusual was a batch of five Carmichael machines equipped as rescue tenders and light pumping appliances, which featured the builder’s own front assembly and body. Several private and industrial fire brigades bought Forward Control Land Rovers but, compared with the conventional model, they remained a rare breed with Britain’s public fire services.
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