A simple coupling that allows fire engines to take water from on-farm tanks could make it easier for fire crews to deal with farm fires before they cause lots of damage and potentially reduce the number of fire engines that have to attend.
At the moment, farm fires often require large numbers of engines to attend. That’s because each vehicle typically only carries 1800 litres of water, so several are needed to fight even a medium-sized blaze.
To get more water, the fire crews either have to find a hydrant (which are rare on farms) or pump water from a nearby stream or river. The latter involves using portable pumps and long lengths of pipe, which takes time to set up and only gives modest flow-rates.
Critically, the fire engines have no means to use water that is often stored in large quantities in farm tanks used for supplying sprayers, simply because the pipe fittings aren’t compatible. The same applies to using water from spray bowsers and sprayer tanks themselves.
It was this baffling incompatibility that set Wistow arable farmer Richard Blackhurst thinking. Earlier this year, a fire on his uncle’s farm resulted in 14 fire engines having to attend. Though there was a 30,000-litre water tank on the farm, the fire crew had to set up a complicated water supply system, using several fire engines working in relay to take water from a brook half a mile away.
“Imagine the frustration – your barn’s burning down and you’ve got 30,000 litres of water there on the farm that you can’t use,” says Mr Blackhurst. “We all do risk assessments for liquid fertiliser spills and diesel spills for assurance schemes, but do we ever do risk assessments for fires?”
And it affects more than just farms, too. With just 36 fire engines in Cambridgeshire, sending 14 to one farm fire inevitably means that those remaining are stretched thinly across the county. If fire engines could use farm water, it would potentially mean that fewer would be needed and more would remain for other fires.
Determined to find a way to make it possible for fire engines to use on-farm water, Mr Blackhurst contacted his local fire service at Huntingdon. An enthusiastic response came back from Huntingdonshire operational station manager Geoff Quince.
“Lack of water is our main problem when we tackle farm fires,” he agrees. “With a 2250 litres/min pump on the fire engines, you can use up your 1800 litres of water in less than a minute, so we have to eke it out.”
The answer was a simple connector – dubbed the Firemans Friend – that can fit farm water tanks at one end and the fire engine’s fittings at the other. Mr Blackhurst found off-the-shelf components and is selling a converter for £70 via a website currently being up called www.firemansfriend.co.uk .
Why not fit them direct to the fire engines? Simply because each vehicle would need to carry five different fittings and, because they work at the absolute weight limit, nothing extra can be carried, points out Mr Quince
Mr Blackhurst will also sell a complete kit that includes a stick-on sign so that fire crews arriving at an unfamiliar farm know where suitable water supplies can be found.