Many people would not associate the Royal Air Force Fire Service with boats.
But in the late thirties early forties some seaplane tenders which were used for servicing RAF Flying Boats were converted to Fire Floats in order to reduce the risk of damage by fire in the seaplane while secured in the harbour out of reach of a normal fire tender and it would also be used to protect other installations.
At first there were several conversion types, and ranged in length from 37.5 ft, 38ft and 40ft (11 to 12 mtrs) and were powered by either Meadows or Perkins engine. The conversion was improved and the Mk1a and MkIIa made an appearance. The water pumping unit for both conversion types was supplied by Coventry Climax and a 350/500 g.p.m. pump unit mounted on bearers within the cabin connected to a 5ft length of 4 inch suction hose coupled to a 5 inch sea inlet, A hand operated swivel type monitor was fixed to the cabin roof and fed by a short length of rubber lined hose from the starboard side pump delivery. Part of the port side cabin was cut away to accommodate a multi jet inductor with a 20 gallon foam compound tank. Shortened lengths of hose were used with No2 size foam producing branch pipes with a knapsack tank and two No10 branch pipes were also carried, one adapted for use with the monitor. The later modifications included two 50 gallon inter-connected foam tanks that were fitted in the bilges which allowed it to produce 2,700 g.p.m. of foam for 11 minutes. Alternatively, it could supply water only.
Fire Float 38 at RAF Pembroke Dock which was converted from Sea Plane Tender 396 in 1941
The standard crew for a Conversion fire Float was five men, consisting of one coxswain, one engineer, one N.C.O. fire fighter and two fire fighters.
One Seaplane Tender ST206 which was converted to Fire Float 1 has connections to Aircraftsman Shaw (Lawrence of Arabia) his workbook shows that he was based at RAF Catfoss (Bridlington) and that he worked extensively on ST 206 before its conversion.
There were some purpose built fire floats built by Vosper Ltd of Portsmouth, 50ft and 60ft (15 to 18 mtrs) prototypes appeared but a 46ft (14mtrs) Mk2 won the day and two were produced carrying the designation FF93 and FF94. The pumping engine was a Ford V8 which drove a rotary vane pump manufactured by Sun Engineering Ltd and was designed to deliver 2,250 to 2,500 gallons of foam or 500 to 600 gallons of water.
Vosper 46ft Mk2
With the end of RAF Flying Boat operations in the late 1950’s brought the demise of the Fire Floats for the RAF Fire Service but the Service would venture again in the marine world in the 1960’s.