Over the past few months, one fire and rescue service in the UK has been putting a brand new fire appliance to the test. This single truck — which is the only one of its kind in the country — along with the people who’ve been operating it, are helping to shape future frontline firefighting across the world…
Current funding pressures mean that fire services up and down the United Kingdom need to operate more productively than ever before.
It’s a common scenario: fire crews are called upon to improve the speed, efficiency and power needed to react to an emergency incident. But budgets are simultaneously being tightened, meaning that services are effectively being asked to do more, with less.
The best approach to tackling this feat is via a combination of continual improvements in planning and training, alongside the innovation of new, ground-breaking technology.
And Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) is a great example of a service that achieves this.
A collaborative effort
In 2012, in an attempt to accomplish said efficiency, LFRS recognised the growing need for a new, multi-purpose appliance. John Hargreaves, their head of fleet and engineering services (FES), was tasked with researching options, working in collaboration with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) to produce a framework for special appliances — including aerial ladder platforms (ALP), turn table ladder (TTL) and water tower (WT) vehicles.
The subsequent reports created by John recommended the development of an aerial strategy and the introduction of a water tower appliance. This vehicle needed to be capable of self-sufficiency, whilst simultaneously increasing firefighter safety.
And so, after months of state-of-the-art research, development and simulation methods in collaboration with Rosenbauer UK, the AT-Stinger appliance was born.
A Bluetooth-controlled, 16.5 metre High Reach Extendable Turret (HRET) is able to deliver 4,500 litres of water over 85 metres, if and when required — further than any ALP. It allows fast, precise positioning and extinguishing performance.
The Stinger boom package was also designed with a hydraulically-actuated piercing tool, capable of penetrating walls, windows and house roofs, before discharging 1,000 litres per minute of water from the injected spike. A thermal imaging and real-time camera are fixed to the tip of the implement, alongside LED lighting to illuminate the scene of operation.
The water supply performance is powered by its own — 4,500-litres-per-minute — Rosenbauer NH45 fire pump, which was developed specifically for the AT-Stinger.
Firefighter safety was also at the centre of innovation. Three-point belts were fitted on all seats, alongside an optional complete roll-over airbag system in the crew cab. Patented revolving safety steps allow the firefighters to enter and exit the vehicle quickly and safely, even whilst wearing bulky PPE and breathing apparatus and when the door can only be opened halfway. Plus, LED lighting ensures glare-free, uniform lighting with the option for night vision mode to ensure maximum efficiency.
Part of the AT-Stinger’s specification was a robust and corrosion-resistant unit to offer further precision. Laser-cut, bent aluminium offers a high-strength body which is self-supporting and torsion-resistant.
All these refinements make the resulting AT-Stinger a light unit, to ensure ease of operational handling.
But, perhaps most significantly of all, the appliance also has the ability to carry the most essential component for dealing with any fire or rescue scenario; up to six highly-skilled firefighters.
Putting the concept to the test
So the appliance was built and tested, and 2017 was the year to put the AT-Stinger and its cutting-edge functions into operation.
During a 12-month hire agreement, the AT-Stinger was stationed at a Lancashire fire station and put through 460 demanding emergencies.
A hint of the triumph to come was seen at the AT-Stinger’s first operational incident; a house fire in Blackburn. It took the appliance just six minutes to set up and extinguish the fire from arrival, whilst providing additional safety and breathing apparatus for the crews committed inside the building.
Another instance of the AT-Stinger’s superior performance was seen at a car recycling plant in Hyndburn. Where other trucks would struggle to gain access due to rough ground conditions, the water tower successfully navigated the terrain and set to work from a safe distance, increasing firefighter safety.
Without the AT-Stinger in attendance, most industrial and recycling factory incidents would have ordinarily required dedicated aerials and countless pumping appliances to feed them.
In fact, throughout 2017, the benefits of this revolutionary truck were seen time and time again. For instance, the long jet throw capability often kept firefighters in a ‘safe zone’, away from some of the dangers of falling structures and hazardous chemicals.
The speed and efficiency of the vehicle also reduced attendance time and the need for multiple units on the scene, increasing appliance availability for more life-threatening scenarios.
And, together with its capability of dealing with large-scale fire, the AT-Stinger also showed itself as a workhorse for ‘everyday’ incidents, where required. Carrying 1,500 litres of water and a B-type’s allocation of firefighting equipment — including the new battery-operated Weber E-Force 2 extrication equipment — the machine provided increased cutting and spreading power at RTC incidents.
Environmental benefits were also proven, so much so, that the Environment Agency expressed an interest in the AT-Stinger being recognised as a national and regional asset.
Lancashire’s official report attesting to the robustness of the AT-Stinger — released in late 2017 — demonstrates this fire fighting appliance as the most versatile, aggressive and clinical in the UK. This evaluation paves the way for other fire services to invest in this cutting-edge technology.
Working alongside other appliances
While the AT-Stinger proved itself as an infinitely better water tower than any aerial appliance, it’s not a substitute for an aerial ladder platform. In August 2017, LFRS’ Fleet and Engineering division undertook trials on Rosenbauer’s WT and ALP to determine the capacity of each vehicle.
The first test proved that the WT could achieve a height of 50m — 5m higher than the ALP’s performance. The ALP was then tested using the WT as the feed pump, achieving a height of 54m and a throughput of 2,600 litres per minute.
The final trial saw the WT feeding the ALP, whilst delivering water through its own boom package. Both HRETs were placed in the vertical position and a jet height of 40m was realised. Without the AT-Stinger, four vehicles would have been required to achieve this. The trials therefore indicated that using a combination of the AT-Stinger alongside the ALP not only improved performance, but was also a more cost-effective solution.
Skilled personnel alongside cutting-edge innovation
The concept of the AT-Stinger has now been proven, but the success isn’t just down to the technology. It’s also attributed to Lancashire Fire Service and their highly skilled and enthusiastic crew, without whom the appliance wouldn’t have served at its fullest potential.
Oliver North of Rosenbauer UK said: “I have never seen an appliance quite as effective as the AT-Stinger. Many similar concepts, or combined aerial concepts, have been trialled in the past but have never been executed effectively.
“The crews that utilised the AT-Stinger during its trial at Blackburn fire station have been as impressive as the machine itself, and have used it as a tool in their armoury. Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service have truly embraced the technology with great effect.
“I genuinely believe this appliance serves as proof that such complex firefighting solutions are best engineered by pedigree manufacturers using their own components and technology, in conjunction with people on the front line.”
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service have now procured the rented AT-Stinger and will put a second unit into service, once built, in the autumn of 2018. This will be facilitated by the service’s robust training plan, delivered by instructors at Blackburn fire station.
Justin Johnston, Deputy Chief Fire Officer of LFRS finished: “This has been a great partnership approach between Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Rosenbauer UK, marking investment in a time of austerity.
“Importantly, the focus has been all about increasing operational capability whilst improving firefighter and public safety. I am delighted with what we have achieved and it demonstrates the value of direct frontline engagement from design through to operational testing and, ultimately, adoption.”
The AT-Stinger has therefore fulfilled its brief — speed, reliability and water power have all been proven. But above anything else, it is also a tool to improve human safety — the most important thing of all.
The appliance is now available to other Fire and Rescue Services across the globe.
For more information, go to www.rosenbauer.co.uk