Heathrow fire chiefs enhance ‘first strike’ capability with two agile appliances from Mercedes-Benz

The Heathrow Airport Fire & Rescue Service is now able to tackle a broad range of incidents more quickly and efficiently after commissioning a pair of highly specialised domestic response units based on Mercedes-Benz chassis. The Sprinter 519 CDI chassis cabs were supplied by Dealer Rossetts Commercials to Rosenbauer UK, a subsidiary of the Austrian group that is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of firefighting equipment. Replacements for a single 18-tonne domestic appliance, the new vehicles offer a major increase in operational flexibility.

Being smaller and more agile, they are better able to get through traffic on the roads in and around the UK’s busiest airport. And although each has seating for four, they will typically be manned by a crew of two. This means Chief Fire Officer Gary Barthram and his commanders can respond to two emergency calls simultaneously.

The Heathrow Airport Fire & Rescue Service works to strict performance standards laid down by the Civil Aviation Authority and its fleet includes a number of larger appliances which would be used in the event of a fire or other major incident involving an aircraft. It also provides cover for the area within and around the airport boundary, which means its firefighters are regularly called upon to deal with anything from a domestic blaze, to a car crash, or a serious medical call. It is for these, more general incidents that the new Sprinters were commissioned, and Rosenbauer’s Compact Line Superstructure is purpose-designed to carry as much as possible of the specialist equipment that crews are likely to need to get the job done.

The air-conditioned Sprinters have 5.5-tonne gross weights, uprated from the standard 5.0 tonnes. Range-topping V6 engines – limited to 56 mph unless the vehicle is responding to a 999 call – transmit their 190 hp outputs via six-speed manual gearboxes. These were chosen instead of the seven-speed 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic which is fitted as standard on the rear-wheel drive 519 CDI model, as it meant Rosenbauer could also specify the engine-driven 40 kW PTOs (power-take-offs) used to drive the 20 BAR pumps on each appliance.

Other features of the body include a 600-litre water tank, 60 metres of electrically-rewound 22 mm bore hose and a further 60 metres of ‘lay flat’ high-pressure hose, an additional battery and air compressor to operate the body and firefighting systems, and a full complement of blue roof beacons and LED warning lights, plus a siren/wailer. Among the equipment stowed on-board, meanwhile, are four sets of breathing apparatus, a multi-purpose ladder, RTC (road traffic collision) cutting equipment and a reciprocating saw, a thermal image camera and a portable pump. An established Rosenbauer customer, Heathrow Airport Fire & Rescue Service confirmed its order for the two new vehicles after members of its team visited Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service to see three Compact Line appliances also based on Sprinter chassis supplied by Rossetts Commercials, which entered service last year.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Summerhill, who led the project, said: “Unlike most firefighters we are employed by a business, not a public body, so while saving lives and serving the public will always be our number one priority, we’re also particularly conscious of the need to prove value for money, and keep the airport moving, particularly in these challenging times. “The bulk of our work entails responding to alarms and dealing with small fires in domestic and commercial properties, road accidents and medical incidents such as cardiac arrests – we’ve all been trained to provide emergency care and can often do so before an ambulance reaches the scene. “These fantastic vehicles allow us to be more agile and dynamic in the way we do so.

We can cover two incidents at the same time, and if it’s more serious and we need to increase our resilience we can send a crew of four rather than just the usual two, or, indeed, direct both vehicles to attend.” Mr Summerhill continued: “Weight is always an issue with firefighting appliances but given their compact size our new domestic response units are exceptionally well equipped. This means that when we’re dealing with fires, for example, they give us a really good ‘first strike’ attack capability – if we don’t put it out completely, we can at least hold it back until the local authority fire teams arrive.”

He added: “We took a lot of advice before confirming our order. We need absolute reliability from our kit, and Rosenbauer’s recommendation of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter as a base chassis was borne out by the other fire services and fleet managers we spoke to. “These vehicles are easy to drive and exceptionally manoeuvrable, which is a huge advantage on such a busy airport.

They’re also really well thought out in terms of their design. We began working on this project four years ago but the time and effort we’ve committed has been well worthwhile, because we couldn’t be happier with our new vehicles.” Rosenbauer UK Managing Director Nick Uwins said his company had also recently built vehicles for Surrey Fire & Rescue Service, based on chassis supplied by Rossetts Commercials.

Commenting on the service provided by the Dealer’s Off-Road & Blue Light Sales Specialist Martin Gearing, he said: “Martin’s a great guy to work with.

He’s very enthusiastic and highly responsive, so that if ever I need a quote, or some information, I know I can rely on him to get back to me very quickly.”

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