Research - Motor Fire Appliances

The first British fire brigade to buy a motorised fire appliance was Eccles, in September 1901. Based on a locally built 7 horse power Protector chassis, the 14 miles per hour tender carried five men and equipment, but did not carry water or a fire pump. It cost £180 but it wasn’t very successful. At about the same time Liverpool experimented with a similar Daimler tender, but again this was not a success.

Two years later Tottenham Fire Brigade took delivery of the first motor escape carrier, built by Merryweather and Sons. Water was supplied through a 56 metre hose from a 60 gallon ‘chemical engine’ under the seat which operated on the same principle as a soda acid fire extinguisher.

By 1904 Merryweather’s had patented their ‘Hatfield’ three throw reciprocating fire pump, mechanically driven from a vehicle’s own road engine and so the first true motor ‘fire engine’.

The Hatfield and other similar positive displacement pumps operated by means of cylinders in the same way as the old manual and steam engines, having all the same disadvantages such as poor power-to weight ratio and the need for an air vessel to smooth out the water flow. A major development came in 1908 with the invention of the turbine (or centrifugal) pump, employing an impeller in a circular pump casing, as on the modern fire appliance. The Hatfield reciprocating pump however was popular until the 1930s.

All the major British manufacturers began to produce motors from about the same time: Merryweather of London (1903), John Morris of Salford (1904), Dennis Bros of Guildford (1908) and Leyland of Lancashire (1909) remained in fierce competition until the second world war, with British fire engines being exported to all parts of the globe.

Meanwhile motorised ‘special appliances’ began to appear in the 1920s, particularly the turntable ladder and the emergency tender, the latter originally designed to provide breathing apparatus and electrical lighting equipment.

Before World War 2, motor pumps were of a similar design having box-like bodywork almost identical to the horse-drawn machines they replaced. This became known as the ‘Braidwood’ style in honour of the renowned Edinburgh and London fire chief, James Braidwood (although he died in 1886 almost 50 years before the first motor fire pumps were introduced.) This design could be very uncomfortable for the crew - especially in winter and was also dangerous for the men who had to dress whilst clinging to the appliance.

From the 1930s attempts were made to improve safety on motor fire engines. The first totally-enclosed ‘limousine’ appliance was built in 1931 and had a van-type body with single rear entrance. Other safety layouts included ‘transverse’ seating (two forward-facing rows of open seats) and ‘New World’ (inward-facing seats inside a rear-entrance open-top body) though the traditional Braidwood was still being supplied up until the early 1950s. Pneumatic tyres were fitted from around 1930.

During the Second World War large numbers of utility-design appliances on various commercial chassis such as Austin, Bedford or Dodge were produced for the National Fire Service. These grey-painted machines carried heavy pumps, portable dams or wheeled escapes and were extremely basic vehicles.

After the War, manufacturers began to build modern enclosed fire appliances which had crew safety features, larger water tanks up to 400 gallons (1800 litres) and more powerful pumps up to 1000 gallons per minute (gpm) (4000 litres per minute). Apart from Dennis who continued to build complete appliances until the 1990s, most manufacturers now used commercial chassis such as petrol-engined Bedford and Commers or diesel powered AEC. Leyland disappeared from the post-war scene until 1958 when they introduced the concept ‘Firemaster’ chassis, designed in conjunction with Manchester Fire Brigade. Only ten of these engines were built.

Since the 1960s fire appliances have become more functional in design but with increasing sophistication. Fire appliances carry a lot of equipment, including crash-rescue and chemical-protection apparatus; several different ladders are usually fitted and separate high pressure hose reel pumps are provided. Other innovations, reflecting 21st century problems, include centrally-locked equipment compartments and closed-circuit television for greater security.

Crew safety is another important consideration, so appliances now have strengthened steel cabs and high-visibility markings. Recently the most significant change has been the greater use of foreign chassis such as Volvo and Mercedes, though generally still with home-built bodywork.

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