HISTORY OF THE RAF FIREFIGHTER
The War Years into Post War; Restructure and Development
1940 – 1958

In July 1940 the Fire Training moved from RAF Cranwell to RAF Weeton but only for 3 years and in August 1943 moved to RAF Sutton on Hull. This was where the Fire Service was to see immense changes in its structure and organisation. The Training unit was to be known as the RAF School of Firefighting. The Air Ministry realised that there had to be significant changes made in the approach to aircraft fire fighting. This was mainly due to aircraft becoming larger with increased fuel loads which in turn required greater foam producing capacity from vehicles. Also the introduction of the jet aircraft brought on new challenges and this required improved firefighting techniques and more intense and specialised training of personnel.

scampton line 40'sRAF Scampton 1940’s

During the war years there was to be many acts of bravery by Fire Fighters and here is just one example of one airman who was awarded the British Empire Medal for Bravery in 1942

  1. Sergeant, John William EMMETT.

In the early hours of a day in September, 1941, this airman saw an aircraft having difficulty in landing at an aerodrome. Anticipating a crash, he took charge of the fire tender, although not officially on duty, and arrived at the scene of the accident within three minutes. The aircraft, which had been broken in two by the impact, was burning furiously and two members of the crew could be seen alive in the flames below the fuselage. Sergeant Emmett, protected only by asbestos gloves, dashed into the burning wreckage and extricated one of the crew. Before he could return for the second man, the petrol tank split and the fierce heat of the blazing petrol then prevented any near approach. Sergeant Emmett tried repeatedly to extricate the other living member of the crew by means of a grab hook but without success. In spite of a violent explosion, Sergeant Emmett continued to direct the work of his fire party until the fire was completely extinguished and the remaining bodies were recovered. Unfortunately, the rescued airman has since died of his injuries. Sergeant Emmett on this occasion displayed great devotion to duty and courage and disregard for his own safety. He has been in charge of the station firefighting personnel for the past 9 months and has shown considerable fortitude and presence of mind at many flying accidents on and near the station.

By 1940 the RAF Fire tender stock was mostly comprised of the Crossley FE1, the Streamlined and FWD Type with the introduction of the Ford Motor Company WOT1.

crossley FE1 1940

Crossley FE1 Crash Tender which carried 300 Gallons (1,350 Litres) of Water, (28 Litres) of Foam Compound and 4 60Ib CO2 cylinders

Crossley FWD 1940

A Crossley FWD Type 4X4 Crash Tender which carried 300 Gallons (1,350 Litres) of Water, (28 Litres) of Foam Compound and 4 60Ib CO2 cylinders.

WOT1 1940

A preserved WOT1 (War Office Truck 1) at the Museum of RAF Firefighting. The later type was modified to carry 400 gallons of water and 65 gallons of foam to increase foam production.

Although the WOT1 and Crossley’s were in production there was still a shortage of fire equipment in the mid-war years. It was when the Fire School moved to RAF Weeton that the ‘Weeton Type’ was developed, which was designated WOT1A. It was on a strengthened chassis with and enclosed cab but the water/compound mixture was fed into the suction side of a standard Coventry Climax light portable pump mounted across the chassis. This increased the quantity of foam produced and a longer jet throw. Some 350 ‘Weeton Type’ Crash Tenders were put into service following their introduction in 1944.

WEETON TYPE

The Air Ministry were still concerned that the ability of the current Crash Tenders where not adequate to deal with fires on the large multi engine aircraft. They carried out trials and these proved conclusively that this was the case. The Air Ministry set up a panel to examine and report on the problems.

December 1943 the Air Ministry Order promulgated the trade of Firefighter a sub-specialisation of the Officers Support Branch, that of ‘Fire and Anti-Gas Officer’ was set up to command the new trade. The School was renamed as the RAF School of Firefighting and Anti-Gas During the period a second school was opened at Ismalia in Egypt, but was closed at the end of the Second World War. At the end of the Second World War, the Air Traffic Control Officers branch assumed the responsibility of the RAF Fire Service. In the post war years, some 5,000 Regulars and National Service Conscripts were trained at RAF Sutton on Hull

Although the WOT1 and Crossley’s were in production there was still a shortage of fire equipment in the mid-war years. It was when the Fire School moved to RAF Weeton that the ‘Weeton Type’ was developed, which was designated WOT1A. It was on a strengthened chassis with and enclosed cab but the water/compound mixture was fed into the suction side of a standard Coventry Climax light portable pump mounted across the chassis. This increased the quantity of foam produced and a longer jet throw. Some 350 ‘Weeton Type’ Crash Tenders were put into service following their introduction in 1944.

WEETON TYPE

The ‘Weeton Type’

The Air Ministry were still concerned that the ability of the current Crash Tenders where not adequate to deal with fires on the large multi engine aircraft. They carried out trials and these proved conclusively that this was the case. The Air Ministry set up a panel to examine and report on the problems.

In 1944 the panel concluded that that vehicles capable of producing not less than 2,400 gallons per minute (10,800 litres) for a period of 10 minutes (with additional water supplies) should be made available. Also this should be supported by 1,500Ibs of Carbon Dioxide, but at the time no chassis could carry the quantity of media required. So the recommendations of the panel were met by producing Foam Tenders backed up by Water Tenders and CO2 Tenders.

The first of these new Crash Tenders was the “1944 Conversion Type”, so called because it was a conversion of the 1942 WOT1.

1944 conversion

1944 Conversion Type

This carried 300 gallons (1,350 litres) of water and 100 gallons (450 litres) of foam. The main innovation was the provision of three monitors, two on the rear deck and one on the collapsible tower. Two 2½ inch hand lines could also be used at ground level if required. The foam was mixed by a pump which was independent of the road engine.

1944 conversion action

1944 Conversion Type in action showing the platform extended 

The next Crash tender was the 1944 Monitor Type which was on an extended Ford WOT1A1chassis which allowed a longer crew cab to be fitted to give protection to all personnel. The tower was dispensed with and firefighting was performed by a rear mounted monitor or four hand lines, this was supplemented by four 60 IbCO2.

1945 monitor type

1945 Monitor Type

To carry on with the recommendations of the Air Ministry Panel that the foam attack should be supported by a CO2 attack the CO2 Tender was produced and was commonly known as the “Gas Truck” It was based on an Austin K6 6×4 chassis. The Co2 (24 x 60Ib cylinders) were installed in four banks of six cylinders each and housed longitudinally on the vehicle chassis, two banks either side, with a catwalk in the centre.

autin k6 6x4

Preserved Austin K6 CO2 Tender at the Museum of RAF Fire Fighting

The new acquired tenders, the 1944 Conversion, the 1944 Monitor and Gas Truck did not come into service until after the war had ended. The additional water supplies required were carried on converted water carriers based on Bedford OY or Dodge, Canadian Ford and the Chevrolet 4×2 chassis. The Bedford was the most common.

Beford OY water tanker

Bedford OY Water Tanker

Another development which happened during the War and Post War years was the introduction of an Aircraft Crash Rescue Truck. This was to be a small vehicle which would be fast to the scene of a crash to reduce the time trapped aircrew would be exposed to fire.

Willys jeep

The first which was introduced in 1943 was the Willy’s Jeep which carried four foam extinguishers, two CO2 extinguishers and one CTC extinguisher. It also carried two asbestos blankets, a short ladder, various hand tools, a first aid kit and a searchlight.

Other versions over the years were developed most based on a Landrover chassis.

1947 brought and upgrade to the AP 957 (Air Publication) designated as Part 1 for general firefighting guidance and drills. In 1949 The second part was published and was for aircraft fire fighting and crash rescue services.
ap957 1947ap957 1949

As part of the training package at RAF Sutton-on-Hull recruits were issued with two manuals based on the information in the Air Publications and technical information from the producers of the Crash Trucks.

standard notesstandard notes crash tender

But not all RAF Firemen were trained at RAF Sutton-on-Hull. According to written accounts of Firemen of that era up to about the year 1952, National Service Firemen were sometimes trained on their own unit to which they were posted. After the trade of Fireman was formalised in 1943 in 1949/50 the trade Fireman/Driver was introduced. When in 1951 the trade came under Group 9 they came under Air Traffic Control (ATC) and became Aero Fireman or Aero/Fireman/Driver.

1952 saw the first of the post war vehicles coming into service, this was the Mk5 Crash Tender built by Whitson on a Thorneycroft 4×4 chassis with Sun Engineering fitting the fire equipment. It carried 400 gallons (1,800 litres) of water and 60 gallons (270 litres) of foam, the foam being delivered through hand lines. This also could be used for domestic (structural) firefighting.

mk5

Mk5 Showing an original registration (AF) as they were built on second hand chassis’s

It was on the 2nd December 1953 the iconic Fire Badge was approved by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and presented to the Fire School by Air Marshal Sir Victor E Groome KVCO KBE CBE DFC. The badge was designed by Regional Arts & Craft College Hull. The motto was arranged by a Professor of the University of Hull, the translation being

“E Flammis Atque Ruinis Salus” “Safety from Flame and Ruins”

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WC Eyes

RAF Sutton-on-Hull Station Commander Wing Commander Eyes looking at the newly presented crest

The Land Rover 86’was introduced, carrying the same basic equipment as the Willy’s Jeep.

landrover 86

Image showing the equipment on the Landrover 86

1955 was to see the first Crash Truck in the RAF with a central forward facing monitor. It was designated the Mk5A the body was built by University Motors and fire equipment by Pyrene. The early productions had a different rear body shape. This tender carried 450 gallons (2,025 litres) of water and 60 gallons (270 litres) of foam compound. This also could be used for domestic (structural) fire fighting.

mk5a

Mk5A with the square rear bodywork, photographed at Christmas Island (Australian Indian Ocean Territories) 

mk5a rounded

Mk5A with the rounded rear body work, this vehicle served at RAF Leeming (Yorkshire) and RAF Sharjah (UEA)

1955 the first of the ‘V Force’ aircraft, the Valiant came into production followed in 1956 by the Vulcan and the Victor in 1958 with such large aircraft carrying large amounts of fuel the need for Crash Trucks which were capable of producing large quantities of foam at a rapid rate needed to be developed. Although the Mk5A was a great leap forward from the War time trucks, continuing development was still required.

The Next Major Crash Truck finally delivered to the RAF in 1958 was to be the Mk6, a totally different type of vehicle that had never been seen before in the RAF Fire Service. Based on the Alvis Salamander chassis developed from the Alvis Saladin armoured car chassis it was 6×6 giving great off road capability and it could reach 60mph on a flat surface powered by a rear mounted Rolls Royce Mk81A petrol engine using a 5 speed pre-select gearbox. The driver position was in the centre of the cab. Although the foam producing capacity was about the same as the Mk5A the Mk6 carried 700 gallons (3,000 litres) of water and 100 gallon (450 litres) of foam, plus 10 gallons (42.5 litres) of CBM (Chlorobromomethane) used for secondary fires. It also had an internal fire suppression system for the rear engine compartment. It remained in service until 1978 and had many modifications which brought about variants named Mk6A, 6B, 6C and 6D.

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MK6 restored and owned by the Museum of RAF Firefighting

Compiled by S Harrison 2016

Find out about the origins of RAF Firefighting from the foundations to 1939

1918-1939

Coming soon Post War Firefighting development

1960+