A heightened threat of flooding has prompted Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service to invest in a pair of dedicated Water Rescue Units based on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 vans.

The 5.0-tonne Sprinter 516CDIs were chosen not only for their raised ride heights and off-road prowess, but also for their towing capability – both pull trailers that carry four-metre inflatable boats.

Supplied by Mercedes-Benz UK’s specialist Emergency Services department and delivered by dealer Hughes of Aylesbury, the vans are Medium length Dualiner models, with second rows of seats. They underwent conversion by Walsall-based specialist Macneillie & Son, which fitted bulkheads and storage systems, blue lights and sirens, and also applied the liveries.

Each van can carry a crew of six, as well as a range of specialist equipment for use during rescues and salvage operations in or near to water and mud.
Their 4×4 capability and raised ride height – the off-road Sprinter sits higher than its standard counterpart by 110mm at the front and 80mm at the back – allows the new vehicles to negotiate flooded roads which other vans could not ford, or to get right down to the water’s edge to launch the boats.

“These new vehicles reflect the demands made of a modern fire and rescue service and have been designed primarily by the firefighters who will use them,” said Station Manager Paul Harrison, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s lead officer for water rescue.

The Medium-length vans are based at Beaconsfield and Newport Pagnell Fire Stations, and replace the team’s previous vehicles, which were more than 15 years old and no longer up to the job.

“Because our Sprinters can carry up to six officers, as well as tow our rescue boats, we no longer have to send the remainder of the crew in an additional fire appliance every time we’re called out,” continued Mr Harrison.

Buckinghamshire’s highly-trained water rescue teams have been increasingly busy in recent years but 2007 was particularly memorable, as they rescued scores of people from their homes during that summer’s flash floods.

“The introduction of these new units means we can further improve the safety of our local communities, as well as our own staff,” added Mr Harrison.

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service has also bought two more 5.0-tonne Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, both Extra Long-bodied 519CDIs models with factory-fitted automatic transmissions. They will be used during major incidents as operational support units – one carries primarily breathing apparatus, the other decontamination equipment.

Group Transport Manager Jez Finden said: “The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has a great reputation for strength and reliability, and is impressively well equipped – the fact that the four-wheel drive systems, Dualiner cabs and automatic transmissions were all available ex-factory and are fully backed by the manufacturer’s warranty was very reassuring. Mercedes-Benz also recommended Macneillie & Son under a ‘one-stop shop’ arrangement, and we’re very happy with the quality of their work too.”

For more information: www.bucksfire.gov.uk