Modernisation and stricter financial constraints of the Fire Service has not only had an impact on the Brigades but also on the suppliers to the Fire Services. Altered operational requirements for each Fire Authority has led in turn to a change in the types of vehicles required, with Fire Authorities looking at working with smaller fire crews and more cost effective vehicle purchases.
There has also been a change in the type of fires that crews are being asked to attend. With the prevalence of ‘small fires’ and inner city access requirement not every station requires two full Type B appliances. Other vehicles with specific fire-fighting equipment are now being provided to manage a change to the type of incidents fire brigades are facing. Bence has seen a move towards small rapid response vehicles for the ‘small fire situations’ the firefighters are more regularly facing. Naturally this has led to difficult challenges for the both the brigades and suppliers alike.
The choice for the brigade is speed and reduced vehicle size versus limited equipment and payload capacity, and for the supplier the challenge is providing a safe solution while still meeting the brigades’ requirements.
One of the key factors to be considered is the vehicle GVW with many of the small rapid response vehicles based on or below 3500Kg. The Fire Services industry has considered the pickup truck solution and, although these vehicles are categorised as 3500Kg, in most cases they all have a GVW of 2800Kg or a maximum of 3200Kg. The base vehicle kerb weight, when transporting 3 fully equipped fire fighters and a suitable water tank leaves little payload for the equipment and pump capacity.
There have been several modifications offered through the after-market service sector to assist with increasing the payload to 3500Kg. In most cases these solutions are produced ‘after-market’ and have not been ratified by the vehicle OEM. Additionally, these changes to the suspension system are designed for vehicles which are driven for commercial use at normal road speed, and not for high speed emergency response and manoeuvring while fully laden.
Although these aftermarket products have been well received in the market place Bence felt that the future for fire appliances was to provide a compact solution that was both supported and warrantied by the original vehicle manufacturer.
Looking to the future needs of the Fire Services and the re-emergence of the Compact Fire Appliance, Bence have worked closely with Suffolk Fire having been awarded the recent contract. The project for Suffolk Fire and Rescue was to find a solution still offering the equipment stowage capacity required, while offering Suffolk Fire a running cost savings by using a lighter weight chassis, and a capital cost saving with a compact body design so reducing the overall purchase price.
“WH Bence is at the cutting edge of new fire engine design, with an in-house design and a variety of manufacturing services,” says Sales Director Oliver Brown.
The contract from Suffolk for a compact solution for their new fleet vehicle came through the Consortium Fire and Rescue Framework and offered a (big) challenge for Bence. The key design problem was that the customer, in this case Suffolk Fire and Rescue, did not want to sacrifice any carrying capacity for their equipment, whilst providing a smaller Fire Appliance solution. Finding storage space for the normal quota of firefighting equipment offered a new complexity to the design criteria. The Bence design department stepped up to the mark and produced what we at Bence believe is great solution for our customer.
In conjunction with Volvo, and using one of their narrow track chassis cabs, the new vehicle has achieved all its operational objectives.
The main outstanding design developments are as follows:
New slimmer and shorter body to match the narrow track cab; the new slimmer body offers a greater level of manoeuvrability and allows the Fire Fighters increased access to difficult rural and urban areas.
Single centre mounted hose reel; the hose reel has been positioned above the pump in order to maximise the flexibility of a narrower vehicle. Low overall height with the total vehicle height being below 3 metres; This vehicle has the added benefit of being considerably lower than a standard fire appliance. This can make a huge difference when accessing inner city areas with listed buildings and reduced height bridges. Specially redesigned ladder gantries, unique to Bence, have been fitted to this vehicle in order to maintain the low height profile required for the Suffolk Team.
Modern CAN bus vehicle / pump control system; all the latest chassis are fitted with an electronic CAN bus control system. The Volvo is one of the most advanced vehicles in the market. In order to operate the pump from the rear of the vehicle it is necessary to break into the CAN bus system. In the pump bay Bence have provided a (specially) programmed 10” screen. The screen provides information about pump pressures and controls the engine RPM at the touch of a button. There is also a miniature version provided for driver information fitted within the cab area. Bence have the ability to programme CAN bus control systems in house and are therefore able to offer Suffolk Fire a control and display system to their operational requirements.
Latest tilt slide light weight shelf units; Bence have utilised the latest light weight slide and tilt shelf units and have fitted a developed slam lock shelf retaining catch. This system allows the fire fighter easy access to a shelf which, before tilting, can be above shoulder height. Repositioning the shelf after use is straight forward using the very robust slam lock system. Equipment stowage is easily achieved by using the standard Bence bollarding system, and this system has been designed to allow easy reconfiguration as the equipment needs changing. The new slide rails allow for 110% extension, and when fully extended, are rated to a maximum payload of 350Kg. Sales Director Oliver Brown says that “this is a huge increase in payload allowance when the shelves are fully extended.”
Redesign cab stowage to accommodate all the equipment for four fire fighters, Officer in Charge and Driver; the (smaller) cab layout has provided quite a challenge for Bence. Having to find room for four fire fighters fully equipped in a reduced size cab has posed some interesting ergonomic problems for the Bence design team. In conjunction with the Suffolk Fire Service, Bence have provided a comfortable and safe seating system in the crew cab area. The design parameters included fitting suitable headrests to protect the crew and to meet current VCA standards. As the vehicle is to be subjected to a full VCA test it was essential that all the equipment carried in the cab is correctly stowed and secured. Items like torches and portable radios can become dangerous missiles if there is a collision involving the vehicle. This stowage system has been designed using our 3D software and CNC cut and plastic welded for a precision finish.
Bence are continually looking to innovate and progress the design and manufacture in the fire market and look forward the challenges that lie ahead.
The new Suffolk vehicle is now nearing completion and first impressions from Suffolk are very favourable. Bence are hoping to display the vehicle at this years’ Emergency Services Show at the NEC in September.